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Steven Bradbury and the Birth of the Australian Winter Olympic Tradition

Release Date: February 23, 2024

Category: Blog

Australia has been competing at the Winter Olympics since 1936, though athletes often finished far behind the pack. The Australian Olympic Committee paid little attention to winter athletes and provided even less support. With little snow and few ice rinks, Australians had limited access to skiing, skating, or sliding. Australia did manage to send an ice hockey team to the 1960 Winter Olympics, but it finished last among the nine teams in the tournament. Only one athlete, alpine skier Malcolm Milne, composed the entire Australian team for Grenoble 1968.


First Steps to Change

The first thaw came with the appointment of Geoffrey Henke to the Australian Olympic Federation (as the AOC was known at the time) in 1976. A former ice hockey player, Henke championed winter sports, representing Australia on the Federation Internationale de Ski and serving as Chef de Mission at the Winter Games from Innsbruck 1976 through Lillehammer 1994.


Australia’s First Winter Medal

Won its first winter medal in 1994, a bronze in the men’s 5,000m short track relay. Steven Bradbury was part of that team. Bradbury competed at four Winter Olympics beginning in 1992. As a rule, the Australian team played it safe on the ice, staying out of the scrum and waiting for others to crash out. This strategy worked in the team relay in Lillehammer 1994 where Bradbury and his teammates won bronze after Canadian skaters took risks and fell.


Bradbury Returns for Salt Lake City

In 2002, an aging Bradbury made the Olympic team, despite breaking his neck in 2000. He may have been past his competitive prime but Bradbury was determined to redeem his losses in the individual races in 1994 and 1998. With screws and plates in his spine, he took the ice.


Bradbury again decided his best strategy was to hang back and stay out of trouble. In the finals of the 1000m, Bradbury faced American favorite Apollo Anton Ohno, multi-medalists Viktor An and Li Jiajun, and Canadian Mathieu Turcotte. With 50m to go, Bradbury was significantly behind the pack and looked to finish in last place. Then, all four of his competitors crashed and took each other out of the race. Bradbury stayed on his skates and crossed the finish line first. He won Australia’s first Winter Olympic gold medal.

Bradbury’s Legacy

Steven Bradbury became a folk hero in Australia, and inspired a new generation of Australian winter athletes. “Doing a Bradbury” has become a colloquial expression in Australia for an unexpected success. Unfortunately, Australia has not won a medal in short track since Bradbury in Salt Lake City.


Building on Success

After Nagano 1998, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) decided to put some muscle into winter sports. The AOC formed the Australian Institute of Winter Sports, renaming it the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia (OWIA) in 2001. The OWIA provides funding, support, and guidance for winter sports in Australia. Working closely with national federations, OWIA targets resources toward athletes with the greatest chance of success at the Winter Games. Geoff Henke became its first Chair.


Medal Haul

Australia has won a total of 19 Winter Olympic medals, mostly in freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Snowboarder Torah Bright was a huge star at Vancouver 2010. Alisa Camplin became the first multi-medalist, winning a gold in 2002 and bronze in 2006 in women’s aerials. Jaclyn Narracott won Australia’s first sliding medal in 2022, a silver in skeleton.


Australia in 2026

Australia’s winter team in 2026 should cover nearly every sport. So what are Australia’s medal prospects in Milano-Cortina? Jakarta Anthony looks to repeat her gold medal performance in women’s moguls. Snowboarders Tess Coady and Valentino Guseli competed in Beijing and want a return trip. Curlers Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt were our favorites in Beijing, and they have been working their way up the rankings in the seasons since. And of course, TKFLASTANI Bree Walker will speed down the sliding track in monobob and 2-women bobsled.


–Alison Brown