Every Olympics needs an Eddie
It was fascinating this week to see Eddie Edwards carrying the torch for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in Winnipeg. As a young journalist, I broke the story that the bespectacled plasterer-turned-ski jumper was preparing for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
The whole experience taught me a huge amount about how quickly fame could come to the most unusual personalities - decades before TV shows like Big Brother.
And it also included the most profound conversation I have ever had in a gents toilet!
When the tip-off came in from a Germany-based correspondent about Eddie at the beginning of 1987, nobody knew how big the story was going to become.
So, as the most junior reporter on Reuters' sports desk in Fleet Street, I was the obvious choice to be sent out to interview him.
I will never forget walking into the bar at the London headquarters of the British Ski Federation in search of the Brit who was going to take on one of the toughest sports at the Games.
I expected a "macho-man". I completely dismissed the only guy sitting at the bar with his thick glasses and small frame. He simply didn't look like a sportsman. It was only after the barman had confirmed that he was indeed Eddie that I approached him and we sat down for a chat.
And what an interview it was! What a character. Eddie had been forced to borrow kit to compete on the World Cup circuit. His glasses would steam up on the runway and then clear just in time for landing! He had no experience of the big ski jumps in Europe but was still determined to make the Olympic team.
It was an easy story to write. The next day the Daily Mail published my words in full and the Eddie Edwards bandwagon was on the roll. By the Calgary Olympics a year later, Eddie was famous worldwide, his press conferences were packed everywhere and he was appearing on the major TV chat shows in America.
But it is the conversation in the toilet at the British Ski Federation that I will always remember. After we had finished the interview, I popped into the gents and I was washing my hands when Eddie walked in.
"Thanks for interviewing me, " he said. "What is Reuters, by the way?"
"Oh, our stories are published in newspapers around the world," I replied. "I will make you famous, mate."
It was a joke, of course. And I was astonished to see his fame grow so quickly -and indeed to see him carrying the Olympic torch 23 years on.
The International Olympic Committee has since tightened its qualification rules so that no-hopers like Eddie have little chance of getting to the Games now.
Are they right to do so?
Eddie gave Calgary huge publicity in many parts of the world where the Winter Games hardly ever cause a stir. He also showed how good the other ski jumpers were by being so bad?
When you only see the very best, it is hard to put perspective on world-class performances in winter sports.
And don't forget, Eddie could also probably ski many of us off a mountain without trying. Despite his lack of success at ski jumping, he WAS an excellent skier.