Humility and Humour Ground Olympic Legend
Fans of ski racing had plenty to rejoice about at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Alberto Tomba (ITA) and Vreni Schneider (SUI) were double gold medalists, and Frenchman Franck Piccard won the very first Olympic super-G event. But for the international media and millions watching on television, the real skiing action was over at Calgary Olympic Park, where British ski jumper Michael Edwards—nicknamed Eddie the Eagle flew into history (or flapped like a penguin) on a pair of 240 cm jumping skis borrowed from the Italian team.
Well before he pushed off the 70 and later, 90-metre ski jumps, Eddie the Eagle was a controversial figure. Indeed, Edwards was part of what was a relatively common tradition at the time, that of rather dilettante amateur athletes looking for competitive loopholes in order to become so-called Olympians. Such “shamateurs” often used suspect passports and membership in non-existent national sports federations in order to compete against the world’s best. Edwards belongs to a long tradition of British adventurer/explorer/sporting types who love nothing better than thumbing their noses at that country’s cloistered class system with its elite schools, plummy accents, and fancy blazers. Such renegades aren’t popular with the sports bureaucrats, but the tabloid press sure loves ‘em.
On a wintry night in the aptly named mountain town of Golden, B.C., Edwards took to the stage at a local theatre to introduce a special screening of Eddie the Eagle, a 2016 Hollywood biopic starring X-Men hunk Hugh Jackman and the ever-droll Christopher Walken that took over eighteen years to make. (It’s also a movie that Edwards admits is only about “five percent true.”)
Displaying the same kind of self-deprecating humour that won over millions during his fortnight of fame, Edwards joked that “you’re only here to see the movie because it’s free.” (Which might have been true, the free screening was part of a six-day Eddie the Eagle extravaganza hosted by Kicking Horse Powder Tours, a British ski holiday firm.)
It speaks volumes about Edwards’s authenticity in that in person, he comes across as neither desperate for fame nor boastful about his so-called “accomplishments.” (Edwards did, after all, finish last in each of his jumps and not long after, much stricter qualifying jumps were put in place to ensure that such a circus would not happen ever again). A steady line of surprisingly enthusiastic admirers waited outside of Kicking Horse’s Eagle Eye restaurant to snap selfies with Eddie, and throughout it all, he maintains the somewhat bemused look of someone who still can’t believe that he’s not plastering walls in some tenement-like his father did. Indeed, he’s traded on his fame to become a judge on game shows, a participant in a reality TV program, and has given motivational speeches on cruise ships and corporate retreats.
Three days later, Eddie the Eagle returned to Calgary Olympic Park as the guest of the Altius Ski Jumping team and posed with hundreds of admiring fans, the vast majority of them too young to recall 1988’s antics. He put in a nice plug for a possible Calgary bid for the 2024 Olympic Winter Games and then, rather heroically, the 53-year-old Edwards climbed the 70-metre jump and took off not once, but twice. And just like his efforts almost three decades ago, he landed on his feet while spectators applauded and felt the magic of what it’s like to fly with Eddie the Eagle.