The 2014 Winter Olympics begin in just a few days in Sochi, Russia. Countries from around the world will participate in friendly competition as their athletes vie for Olympic gold.
While the excitement builds as we anticipate the opening ceremonies, I recall an important lesson from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Steven Bradbury was representing Australia in short track speed skating. He was not expected to win by any stretch. Not by his country, his family, and even himself. He was the long shot of long shots. Sure enough, as the final race was coming down to a photo finish, Steven Bradbury was well behind in fourth place when suddenly the impossible happened.
The lead skater fell and tripped the skater immediately behind him, who then did the same to the third place skater. As luck would have it, Steven was far enough behind the pack that he had enough time to manoeuvre around his competitors, thus avoiding the pile up, and continued across the finish line first to win gold!
As amazing as this was, the story does not end there. In the semifinals, only the top three skaters qualify for a chance to compete for a medal in the finals. There too, Steven Bradbury was trailing in fourth, when the skater in third place fell down close to the finish line, enabling Steven to qualify for the finals and a chance at a medal.
But the sheer luck does not end there either. In the quarter-finals, where only the top two qualify for the semifinals, Bradbury finished third in his race and was under the assumption that he had been eliminated from further competition. Except, one of the top two qualifiers, a Canadian named Marc Gagnon, was disqualified for obstructing another racer, thereby allowing Steven to advance to the semi-finals.
Nothing short of miraculous! Simply unbelievable!
In fact, Steven himself admitted that he had no chance of winning, based on his own abilities. Therefore, part of his strategy was hoping that other skaters would indeed fall.
In an interview after the race he said, “I was the oldest bloke in the field and I knew that, skating four races back to back, I wasn’t going to have any petrol left in the tank. So, there was no point in getting there and mixing it up because I was going to be in last place anyway. So, I figured I might as well stay out of the way and be in last place and hope that some people get tangled up.”
I find it absolutely amazing that someone can recognize that, on his own, on paper, based on simple raw facts, he has no chance at success, and yet he tries anyway.
Upon further reflection, however, this is what Jewish history, our history is all about. An underdog nation that seemingly has no chance of survival, let alone to succeed and thrive and contribute so much to the world, with one hand tied behind her back!
Like Steven Bradbury, we compete because we believe in the impossible. In Australia, they call it “Doing a Bradbury,” meaning an unexpected or unusual success.
In Judaism, we call it Hashkacha Pratis (the guiding hand of God.)
Rabbi Ari Galandauer is the rabbi for Young Israel congregation.