They said I was afraid of heights. I was doing 60 jumps a day… Of course I was afraid. There was always a chance my next jump would be my last.
A big chance.
CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND – This is about as far away from Vancouver and the Olympics as one can be without being chained to a stump in some makeshift Taliban prison tent. Yeah, we’re talkin’ Taliban today… And now we’re not. Anywho, we’re here in this Glouchester spa town on the edge of the Cotswolds, not for a ride on the River Chelt or to get a good seat for the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup, which Sam’s-A-Fan would likely love. No. Instead, we’re here in hopes of meeting the last Regular Joe to partake in the Winter Olympics, a man many of us would love to have been, at least for an Olympic fortnight.
Michael Edwards was born here in Cheltenham in December of 1963. It wasn’t, however, until after he just missed making Great Britain’s ’84 Olympic ski squad, that his more familiar Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards persona was born.
Bummed out after not making that team ’84, Edwards moved to Lake Placid to train for the ’88 games. But he ran out of sterling and had to rethink his Olympic strategy. So, what do you do when you are too broke to pursue your dream??? If you’re a short-sighted (literally) chap sans world-class skill, you switch to ski jumping as Bob’s your uncle! Apparently it’s cheaper – we’re not sure why – and in Eddie’s case, easier to qualify for as he was the only British ski jumpers. And aside from being self-funded and blind as a bat, he was also 20lbs heavier than any other jumpers. Seems as though gravity is kinder to lighter folks.
The Eagle was basically the Poindexter buddy of Foghorn Leghorn of his sport – his glasses fogged so much he couldn’t see. But he also had a sprinkling of Rocky Balboa; he was willing to take a beating and had to wear six layers of socks to make his boots fit.
Our favorite part of his story, though, is that he was working as a plasterer and living in a Finnish mental hospital when he was told he made the cut. He was broke, not nuts – clinically – and thus the accommodations. Seems his ranking as 55th in the world and his being the lone Brit got him the shot.
He finished last in both the 70 m and 90 m events.
Eddie’s lead balloon performance hit some ski bumps with his jumping peers. Athletes and officials felt that he was making a mockery of the sport. In 1990, the International Olympic Committee instituted the Eddie The Eagle Rule, which requires Olympic hopefuls to place in the top 30% in international events. In other words, you can’t just get in the Olympics because you’re your country’s only Curling goalie.
The fans loved him, though. The worse he was, the more popular he got. We can identify with that. And he appeared on talk shows globally, was on Johnny Carson during the Calgary Games and made whoopee with Cindy Crawford and Pam Anderson… Okay, we lied about the last part.
Eddie The Eagle made Olympic history in Calgary simply because the president of the Organizing Committee singled out Edwards for his contribution at the closing ceremony: “At this Games some competitors have won gold, some have broken records and some of you have even soared like an eagle.” 100,000 people in the stadium 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. That’s cool. Sign us up.
Rex O’Rourke, tomorrow.