Controversial Australian Winter Olympic Gold Medal Winner Receives Bravery Award for Rescuing 4 Swimmers

Julia Schneemann |
Steven Bradbury with his Olympic gold medal. | Picture: Olympics Website

Australia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medal winner Steven Bradbury was honored today, August 23, 2023, for helping rescue four drowning girls from the surf on the Sunshine Coast in sunny Queensland, Australia. The 49-year-old former speed skater was surfing with his son Flyn, when he spotted a teenage girl in trouble in a big surf last year.

He grabbed his son’s surfboard and paddled out to the girl, but as he approached her he realized, she was not alone. Her three friends were also struggling to stay above water while being smashed by huge waves. He signalled for help and proceeded to haul the first girl onto the surfboard and paddled back to shore.

“The look on her face stuck in my head for about two months. I have never seen a human with so much fear in her eyes before.”

He paddled back out to the other three girls and tried his best to pull all three to safety but the weight of them all was too much for one board. “It was about five or six minutes of maximum intensity,” Bradbury admits. Luckily the lifeguards showed up shortly after and grabbed two girls, while Bradbury paddled back with one of the girls.

Steven Bradbury won the Olympic Gold at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, UT. He had qualified, winning his heat in the 1,000 m speed skating race. In the quarter finals he faced U.S. speed skater and favorite Apolo Ohno as well as defending World Champion Marc Gagnon from Canada. In the race, Bradbury was relegated to third, however Gagnon’s disqualification lead to Bradbury advancing to the semi finals. In the semi finals all three of his opponents crashed, causing the Australian to advance to the finals, where the exact same thing happened again, crowning the outsider Olympic champion. Bradbury did admit that staying behind and hoping for a crash had been his strategy, as he had known he could not beat them on speed alone.

Salt Lake City
Steven Bradbury, the last man standing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. | Picture: Olympics Website

Some American commentators were unhappy with his unlikely win, with USA Today saying: “The first winter gold medal in the history of Australia fell out of the sky like a bagged goose. He looked like the tortoise behind four hares,” and the Boston Globe writing that multiple crashes had that allowed “the wrong person to win.”  While Australians embraced Bradbury’s victory in their own way, there was a certain relief nationwide, when Alisa Camplin won Gold in Aerials, cementing Australia’s winter sport success as more than just sheer luck.

Since the fateful 2002 Winter Games, ‘doing a Bradbury’ made its way into Australian slang and refers to someone having unexpected or accidental success.

It appears Steven Bradbury has done more than one thing right in his life. Bradbury’s quick thinking and life saving actions on the beach from last year were recognized this week with the ‘Commendation for Brave Conduct’ as part of the Governor-General’s Australian Bravery awards, which honor ordinary people demonstrating extraordinary courage. Maybe he is not quite as ‘ordinary’ as everyone believes.

The Australian Bravery Award medal awarded to Bradbury. | Picture: Australian Government Website

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