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Every Olympics needs an Eddie

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Adrian Warner | 15:14 UK time, Friday, 8 January 2010

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.

Eddie Edwards surrounded by the media in 1988 at the Calgary Olympics. Photo: Getty Images.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.


  • Comment number 1.

    So how come it took a correspondent in Germany to alert someone in Britain about about a 'British' story?

    Let's put it another way:

    You claim you broke the story.
    The Daily Mail probably think they broke the story.
    The correspondent in Germany probably thinks he or she broke the story.

    I bet at least one other person "broke the story" to the correspondent in Germany.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good Blog Adrian.
    I remember Eddies exploits at the time when he competed in 1988 even though I was only young at the time.
    To most of us watching telly in those days, the ski jump was like launching yourself off the end of a cliff an way into the abyss. It would have taken a fair amount of 'bottle' to carry out a jump and to imagine that his glasses steamed up half way down only to clear again mid flight, well one can only take hios hat off to the guy, regardless of the quality of his performance. I expect that this was partly the reason why so many people took an interest and liked Eddie the Eagle as what he lacked in quality, he made up for with courage.
    He also brought a bit of much needed fun.

  • Comment number 3.

    Thefrogstar, I'm happy to give you the details of how the story came about, if you want it.

    The correspondent in Germany, whom I have known for years and is now a very senior editor in international sports journalism, was responsible for reporting on the World Cup ski jumping circuit.

    He noticed that, for the first time, that there was a British jumper entered for a few events that winter. He tipped off the Reuters sports desk in London and we found Eddie before he headed off to Europe for competitions. I then interviewed him to get his story.

    I am sure the Daily Mail has never claimed the story as an exclusive, especially since my story went around the world on the Reuters wire the day before and was printer in many countries.

    best wishes.

  • Comment number 4.

    In the same boat as Finlays-da. I was young at the time but remember seeing him all over the place and is still the most famous British winter sportsman we have probably ever had. I am a very keen skier and boarder and used to race slalom on the dry ski slopes, etc, and have watched all the winter Olympics whilst since I have been old enough to. However, there are only really 3 big moments that I can instantly remember from these games and 2 of them involve 'novices'....Eddie the Eagle jumping about 30m less than everyone else; this Taiwanese (?) skier doing the GS in a snowplough and Bell and co for the BBC not being able to stop laughing (in a good way, it was so funny....the guy fell over at one point, missed a gate and lost his ski, but fetched his ski, ran back up the slope put it on and carried down the slope as before....amazing); and the Herminator (1998) flying through the air and cartwheeeling through the orange safety nets in a crash that looked like it would kill most people (he got up and won a few gold medals later in the week). Point is, for a lot of the world that don't thrive in winter sports (i.e. the majority) it is things like this that give the games the publicity it needs and hoprfully gets people interested. Shame that it is likely we will observe many less memorable moments that capture the wider sporting publics attention.

  • Comment number 5.

    Edit my above comment: the Taiwanese incident was in the 2001 World Championships not Olympics.....this is a BBC link

  • Comment number 6.

    As a Brit living in Calgary for the last 10 years, I can tell you the only Olympian remembered here from the 1988 games is Eddie The Eagle, and that includes the Canadian medal winners! Yesterday the newscasters here were remembering him with great fondness as he carryied the Olympic torch in Winnipeg. He returned to Calgary 2 years ago to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his exploits, and was met with rapturous applause. Quite a legend in these parts.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Eddie Edwards made Ski Sunday in 87/88. Sure he came last every week, but he was improving and breaking the British Ski Jumping record nearly every week, when not in a Mental hospital, recovering from injuries!

    Sure it helped him that he was the only Brit, and of course style counts as well as length in the sport, but still it would be nice to thing Eddie still is our finest Ski Jumper ever!

  • Comment number 9.

    Thank you for the reply Adrian, and yes, I am interested.
    Sometimes the way a story is reported can be as interesting as the story itself.
    When it is (sometimes) obvious that a story might have been recycled from a primary source (such as Reuters), then I like to see what different spins are put on it around the world.

    I enjoyed seeing that The Eagle had landed as much as I enjoyed seeing that he ever managed to get airborne.
    I've been terrified just by looking down a ski-jump in summer.

    The question you pose is also interesting, and provokes others in my mind.
    What was the real reason why the rules were changed afterwards ?
    Would they have done so if Eddie hadn't received so much publicity for being rubbish ?
    Why shouldn't Eddie have had that opportunity (just as Leeds got their opportunity to play Manchester United in the FA Cup!) ?

    My opinion is that the IOC, and some individuals, are terrified of their games being portrayed as "Jeux-Sans-Frontieres" style entertainment.
    If people began to think that maybe the "Olympic Emperor" has no clothes, then this corporate-welfare program might be reined-in, to the benefit of tax-payers.

    I think I've said about as much as I can without being moderated, Adrian, but you did ask.

  • Comment number 10.

    actually there was once another sportsman who became famous but was usually last: the Swiss speed-skater Franz Krienbuhl. He didnt start competitive skating until age 30-something and kept it up till age 48.He had a peculiar style but persistently broke world records... unfortunately always those from about 5 years or so ago (while the rest of the field had moved on)thanks to technical improvements to his equipment, especially after he "invented" the one-piece slinky skating suit which was first laughed at but soon adopted by everybody else as they realized it did increase speed. He also tinkered with skates, improved his times in doing so time and time again and his improvements were adopted all round each time. How a true amateur improved and contributed a sport! Unfortunately impossible these days.

  • Comment number 11.

    Perhaps it's an overly romantic notion, but isn't the Olympics about the best from each country competing against each other - in the words of Jesse Owens, breaking bread with the rest of the world. It's shameful that Eddie, who was the best in Britain, was effectively prohibited from competing by governing bodies reacting to the sniffy attitude of medallists who felt they were being pushed out of the limelight. Perhaps they had reason, then again, Eddie did more to promote their sport than anyone before or since, however inadvertent was his rise to fame.

    I was fortunate to get to know Eddie a little when I was starting in journalism in Cheltenham 7 or 8 years after Calgary. Yes, he was (probably still is) slightly eccentric. I also found him modest, brave and always positive - an archetypal Olympian in many ways.

  • Comment number 12.

    The Winter Olympics?

    After having been on this planet for nearly 40 years I can only name three people from it.

    1. Franz Klammer
    2. That Jamaican bobsleigh team and
    3. Eddie the Eagle

    The rest is all too boringly samey.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Adrian, please can you clarify how good or bad was Eddie?
    From a hazy recollection, I thought he was good enough to compete at the second tier, but was hampered by poor kit and facilities and was plain too heavy to compete against the best Finns.
    But he wasn't an 'Eric the Eel', who would have been beaten by most 12 year olds at your local swimming club.

    p.s. Midland20, perhaps Torvill & Dean, John Curry, Robin Cousins, Alan Baxter or Rhona Martin might jog your memory. You could hardly accuse Alex Coomber or Shelley Rudman in the skeleton bob of being boringly samey.

  • Comment number 14.

    I wonder if it was an advantage or a disadvantage that Eddie's glasses would steam up on the runway? Even as a teenager i remember thinking : this is taking the mick but its kind of sad, from the viewpoint of entertainment, that the IOC dont allow people like Eddie any more

    We'll get good at these sports when the Globl Warming Hypothesis is proven wrong, an Ice Age kicks in and the arctic circle encompasses Birmingham.

    ie never

    But what England can contribute is personality, and on that score Im worried. There should be a medal for "humorous eccentricity" in the past we'd have won it every time. Except the year of the Jamican bobseligh team. Not any more though. How boring are modern sportsmen. And the women are even worse. Boring!

    As the end of the earth approaches, with the various climate and personal effects of Modern Mass Culture, the national sport of every nation is self-destruction and we need Eddie the Eagles to entertain us as we take our own fogged-up-spec journey down the ski slope to oblivion.

  • Comment number 15.

    Eddie did wonders for the publicity of winter sports in the UK. It also showed how much skill and dedication it takes to get to succeed at winter sport.

    We in the UK are so niave to sports we aren't competitive in and therefore think it must be unimportant. It is realistic to be able to say whether a child at the age of 12 will have a chance to make it on the FIS Alpine World Cup. Think how much training goes and cost has gone into this over the 7 years from their first time.

    I compare this to most summer olympic sports where people don't train seriously till their teens and have more funding.

    To me anything that helps promote some of the most dedicated sportsmen and sportswomen in the world is a benefit. The more people that see athletes like Bode Miller, Lindsey Vonn, Simon Amman, Ole-Einner BjornDhalin etc. All of whom are as good as any rower, athlete or heaven forbid footballer.

  • Comment number 16.

    Jim - I agree its always satisfying the best sportsmen/women in whatever sport.

    The Austrians/Russians/Swiis have an unfair advantage of course. Our idea of winter sports is stay indoors and play darts. We need an Indoor OLympics - we'd thrash everyone. Phil the Power is without question the world's greatest sportman, even though he smokes and has a great love of pies.

    Can't see our chances improving in the Winter Olympics until there's some kind of business interest. Pro football clubs are actively involved in identifying and training best kids from the age of 8. Did you ever see how Eddie trained in his back garden on his tragi-comic DIY heath robertson contraption? This is how he toned up

    No chance for any money from govt for the foreseeable.

  • Comment number 17.

    TrojanOtter, I am afraid Eddie scored less than half of the points of any other jumper in Calgary and finished last. He wasn't really built like the tall, thin Finns, Swedes and Austrians.

    JimClark07 makes an interesting point. We do struggle in Britain to produce winter Olympians capable of winning medals and those Brits who have been successful deserve huge credit. Many of them, of course, have needed to train abroad to reach the necessary standard.

    But I agree that these sports should not be underestimated, just because many of them don't get much publicity in the UK. I have been fortunate enough to report on five Winter Olympics since 1992 and I have buckets of respect for the lugers, the cross-country skiers and the speed skaters. Many of them are huge stars in their own countries. The way biathlon and cross country events were followed by tens of thousands of people in Lillehammer in 1994 was amazing. Watch a luge or bobsleigh race live and you will change your mind about the real challenges in that sport.

    But we don't do ourselves any favours either. The number of top-quality skating rinks in this country is poor compared to our European neighbours. And that has nothing to do with the weather. We all watch high-profile figure skating competitions on prime-time TV but it is hard to find top-quality rinks where kids can have a go, especially in southern England. And it is also tough for the winter sports to get the Lottery funding which many of the summer sports enjoy.

    Having said that I know there is a healthy group of determined figure skaters out there in pockets of Britain, including those at an ice centre I sometimes visit within a few minutes of the Olympic Stadium in east London.

  • Comment number 18.

    Adrian - Great blog, I remember the story well. I've heard a story about a skier from Ghana who calls himself the snow leopard. Do you think he'll be the "eddie the eagle" of the 2010 Winter Olympics?

  • Comment number 19.

    Surely the greatest performance by a UK skier in the Olympics has got to that of Alain Baxter with a Bronze medal at Salt Lake City.

    Given that he skis a technical discipline and despite the controversy over his nasal spray, he was well respected by the more established skiing nation's and his talent is the best the UK has ever produced.

    It was even reported that the venerable Austrian Beni Raich who benefitted from Alain's DQ handed him the medal anyway?

  • Comment number 20.

    The Midland 20, with out meaning to be rude i do not think you have a clue what you are talking. How some of the most dangerous, highest speed competitions in the world can be described as 'boringly samey' i do not know. What i do know though is that for example, Skiing is one of the most innovative sports around, making use of new technology and techniques as well as being the most technically and physically demanding sports there is. Couple that with skiers flying down a hill at 80mph, or jumping for nearly 200m i would rather watch this any day than whatever sport you would rather watch

  • Comment number 21.

    Some of the comments here are a bit sad. If you spent a year or so in any Alpine or Nordic country you'd realise just how much winter sports means to those nations. Their ski jumpers and skiers, both Alpine and cross-country, are as big as Wayne Rooney here. A bit less well paid, but just as famous.......

    Franz Klammer was reckoned to add 50,000 to the audience at Schladming in 1982 for the world championship downhill. If you saw him blast his way down the Hahnenkamm the following year, blowing the field away like Tiger Woods has done sometimes at golf, you'd understand why.....

    You go to Garmisch, Bischofshofen, Oberstdorf or Innsbruck around New Year and you'd find crowds to match those at Premier League football. What are they watching? Ski jumping. And that's forgetting Norway, where it's the national sport......

    Don't knock sports we're not good at due to geographical factors.

    Or you might find the world telling us to screw our EPL worldwide media deals as a result.......


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