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Soup of This Day #24: An Ugly Pronouncement

June 27, 2011

500m Short Track at the 2004 World Cup in Saguenay
American Apolo Anton Ohno leads Frenchman Thibaut Fauconnet, Australian Mark McNee and Russian Sergei Prankevitch in a heat of the 500m Short Track Speed Skating at the 2004 World Cup in Saguenay – Photo: Noelle Neu, 2004. Noelle Neu is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Steven J Bradbury did something in sport so momentous that his name is now a byword for a certain type of happening. Doing a ‘Bradbury’ is mostly about luck but there is a grain of truth in it, that sometimes you make your own luck.

Bradbury was a short track speed skater, a competitor in a sport so mad it’s always a surprise when someone gets disqualified. ‘There are rules?’ you exclaim. Short track speed skaters hurtle around a tiny oval, jockeying, jostling and seemingly brawling for position.

On ice.

These things would be funny on concrete. On ice they’re just mental.

Bradbury is clearly mental. In the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer he went into the 1000m short track as the favourite but was knocked over in a semi-final and eliminated. He was part of the short track relay team that won bronze, the first medal of any colour for Australia at a Winter Olympics. Later in 1994 he was in an accident which ended with a competitor’s skate slicing open his leg. He lost 4 litres of blood and almost died. In 2000 he crashed on course after trying to jump over a fallen competitor and speared into a barricade, breaking his neck. He wore a Halo device for a month and a half and had pins inserted into his skull. Doctors told him to quit.

Yeah, no.

Seeking redemption for a missed opportunity in 1994 he ignored the signs and portents and got back in the game. In 2002 he qualified for his 4th Winter Olympics, this time in Salt Lake City. He wasn’t expected to do particularly well, his career had peaked 4 years previously and the reality was that he was a fading journeyman.

Entered into the 1000m short track Bradbury easily won his first heat. In the quarter-finals he drew against the impressively named and impressively credentialled American Apolo Anton Ohno and with only the top 2 going through finished 3rd and was eliminated.

Until 1 of the top 2 was disqualified.

Bradbury therefore progressed with pre-tournament favourite Ohno to the semi-finals. All of these races were on the same night and Bradbury, as one of the oldest in the field, was getting tired. He didn’t have the raw pace to keep up and so in his semi-final dropped off the back. Out of contention he headed into the last lap in stone cold last place.

When 3 of his rivals crashed, handing Bradbury 2nd.

So now he was into the final, a fitting end to a long career. He would be up against genuine superstar Ohno, defending champion Kim Dong-Sung of South Korea and World Champion and silver medallist from 1998 Li Jiajun of China. It was going to be tough so Bradbury and his coach worked out a strategy that involved the Aussie sitting off the back and praying for 1 or 2 skaters to go out, handing him an unlikely medal. In practice Bradbury followed this plan from the off and going into the last lap was around 15m behind the leading 4. He was ok with this, mostly just happy to be there, see out his career with an Olympic final. His rivals headed into the last corner, less than 50m to go and it was all over bar the order of the 4 contenders on the dais.

When they crashed.

All of them.

Leaving, alone and upright, Steven J. Bradbury of Sydney, Australia.

Who skated past the melee and cruised across the line, arms raised, with a disbelieving smile plastered across his face. In the chaos that followed, the recriminations, disqualifications and calls for reruns, that was the constant. That stunned grin. And when it all settled down Steven J Bradbury had won Australia’s, actually the Southern Hemisphere’s, first ever Winter Olympics gold medal. Oh, he considered giving it back, debating whether he had ‘deserved’ it. Probably he foresaw himself as the butt of jokes and wondered if it was worth it all. In the end he decided that it was fitting reward for well over a decade of toil and he kept the gold and the title.

Steven Bradbury won ugly but over time the extreme reactions have become subdued and any sense of injustice has been replaced by a chuckle and a smile. If anything, the win is a nice summation of Australians in sport – Punching above our weight and pulling off a big result with a lifetime of grind and more than a hint of cheeky luck. The win it seems, was so ugly that it’s now beautiful.

The Red Sox won this morning. They won ugly and I reckon no amount of time or retrospection is going to make it less ugly. Most times a team makes 4 errors but still only goes down 4 to 2 then it’s not gonna be a broadcast saved for posterity.

The Sox got going in the 4th with Salty reaching home on an error. The Pirates got back level bottom of the 4th after Miller hit someone (Again with the pitcher hitting the batter thing) and a Scutaro error. The Bucs took the lead in the 5th but Boston were level in the 6th after Reddick’s sac fly scored. Bottom of the 6th and Miller tried to hit someone else and failed. Everyone got warned, presumably about playing crap baseball. You know it’s crap baseball when a pitcher can’t even hit someone when they’re trying to.

In the 7th the Red Sox salvaged something from a pretty awful advert for the game when Pedroia grounded in a run and Youk’s fly brought home Ortiz in a hurry. Big Papi sliding in was the highlight of the night. The only highlight.

At least Boston has snapped a 4 game losing streak. Sometimes winning ugly is all it takes to get the elephant out of the room and back on your side. I’ve compiled the following graphic to explain:

See, the elephant is Big Mo and the car is the Phillies. Hopefully it does not work out for the Phillies. Who are only 49 and 30. And 30 and 13 at Citizen’s Bank Stadium.

Move your ass big Mo and put on a Red Sox uniform. 6 and 2 Beckett against 8 and 5 Lee. Winning ugly will do.

Julia Goerges has a nice name and a decent game of tennis to add to it, as you’d expect from someone with a world ranking of 16. Since her name is written in her native German as Görges and she happens to be a little bit attractive it’s only natural that she is referred to as ‘Gorgeous Goerges’. Which leads to people often saying her name as ‘Gorgeous’. As did an umpire in her match at Wimbledon on Thursday, while over-ruling on a set point that Julia kinda wanted to win.

Only that’s not actually how it’s pronounced.

It’s more like ‘gir-guess’, with the ‘gir’ as in ‘girl’. Hence Julia’s tirade to the umpire:

‘You need glasses. This is the first time you have opened your mouth and it is a call on an over-rule on set point. Also, learn how to pronounce my name properly.’

Ouch.

Goerges went on to win the set 7-6 via a tiebreaker and the match 7-6 6-2, against the equally wonderfully named Frenchwoman, Mathilde Johannson, and presumably the umpire now knows how to pronounce her name in a less gorgeous, but definitely not ugly, manner.

Either way, it’s a beautiful line.

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