the Eagle as he became known, caught the nations imagination
back in 1988 when he became Britains first and only ski jumper
to reach the Olympic Games. The bespectacled buffoon from Cheltenham
jumped off incredibly steep slopes in the name of his country. Why?
Because he wanted to compete in the Olympics. He was the sole competitor
in the field of ski jumping; he had no rivals and became the obvious
choice for the team. It was a pretty sure way to be an Olympian
- choose an obscure sport with no other competitors in a country
where there are no ski jumps, call yourself a ski jumper - and low
and behold you make the team. Eddie was Cool Runnings
all over again.
perhaps, despite what the International Olympic Committee thought,
he was a true Olympian in the spirit of the Games - a real amateur.
The IOC claimed that Eddie made a mockery of the Games; he was
a one man comedy show. The other competitors argued that he
was making a laughing stock of their sport. But maybe the real
issue was that Eddy was the centre of attention for being the
worst skier. It just wasnt fair - good ski jumpers werent
getting nearly the same publicity - the worlds media thought
they were boring in comparison.
Imagine this for a minute. Here was a man who had taught himself
to ski jump in a country that has no real snow to speak of . There
certainly werent any ski jumps and there was nobody with the
knowledge to train him. He borrowed skis, he had no sponsors and
trained every day by jumping over double decker buses. He had only
skied for two years before he made it into the Olympic team
- other jumpers train for years, go through rigorous selection procedures
before they finally make it to the Olympics to represent their country.
You can see the other competitors annoyance. But Eddie had
beaten all the odds just to get to the Olympics, even if his strategy
was a little bizarre.
The plasterer from Cheltenham was born Michael Edwards on 5th December,
1963. His birthday ironically is still celebrated as a public holiday
for casualty departments all over the world. He made his debut in
the 1987 World Championships in Obertsdorf - he came 98th in a field
of 98. When the Calgary Olympics came around, there was nobody who
didnt know about Eddie the Eagle. The country was mesmerised,
waiting to see if this idiot would crash and kill himself as he
leapt from a seriously great height. If you have ever stood at the
top of a jump and looked down, it is a completely horrid sight.
It is a sport where it is necessary to have your brain removed at
birth before you even begin training. So it should not be forgotten
that Eddy had great courage, or perhaps it was just sheer stupidity.
He had grown up wanting to be a stunt-man in the movies, loved skiing
and decided to combine his two passions.
Eddie very quickly became the darling of the media - he was the
master of self promotion, not deterred by the fact that the world
saw him as Mr Magoo on skis. His glasses were thick, he was awkward,
his hair was thinning and weighing in at 180 pounds, he was 20 pounds
heavier than the average jumper. When you meet him however, its
easy to see why he was so popular. Hes funny, sarcastic, knowledgeable
and incredibly driven. Driven and Eddie the Eagle dont seem
like words that are synonymous with each other, but to train to
the level that he did proves that he is one of the most dedicated,
enthusiastic skiers this country has ever produced. He wanted to
be taken seriously - to be known as a respectably competent ski
jumper, if not actually a good one. But all we did was laugh at
him. Even the President of the USA stopped his conference to watch
Eddie jump, confident that he would crash in front of the world.
But Eddie didnt crash, he didnt win either, but at least
he finished in one piece.
Eddies downfall came when he waved to the world and said Hello
Mum, its me just before he took his second jump. Hed
already achieved what he went to Calgary to do, to ski in the Olympics
for his country. The second jump was purely for enjoyment. In Eddies
eyes hed already won. But to his critics, those words ridiculed
the whole concept of what the Games stood for - sporting excellence,
which even he admits is not a word that could be used to describe
The high point of Eddies career was when the President of
the Games gave his closing speech. He said: at this Olympic
Games some competitors have won gold and some have broken records,
and one has even flown like an eagle. At that moment, 100,000
people in the stadium got up and roared Eddie, Eddie.
It was the first time in the history of the Games that an individual
athlete had been mentioned in the closing speech.
Whatever we think of Eddie the Eagles exploits, he is a man
to be admired if only for his guts at having had a go at such a
high level. The IOC have since introduced a new rule to prevent
any other buffoons getting similar ideas. Competitors now have to
jump a certain length before they can represent their country in
the Games. Its called the Eagle Rule. Eddies
jumps will always be remembered; twelve years on he is still Britains
only ever ski jumper.
What happened to Eddie the Eagle?
He made lots of money as the media attention around him grew. He
never made sports personality of the year; Steve Davies was given
the award instead. There was talk of a Hollywood movie about his
antics on the slopes which sadly didnt come to anything. He
leapt over double-decker buses for charity, opened ski shops, supermarkets
and for a couple of years remained the nations hero. But then
like so many heroes before him, he frittered away his money and
ended up on the dole.
However, he told us recently that he hasnt ruled out the possibility
of competing in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City but naturally
his entry is subject to sponsorship. Maybe well see him at
the next Olympics, but somehow I dont think so. He has grown
up a little; he no longer wants to be a stunt-man in Hollywood and
instead he is studying law. The future for Eddie is more likely
to be as a legal eagle rather than a leaping, flying one.
© YVETTE BARNETT, 04/2000