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Throwback: Eddie the Eagle steals the show after soaring to fame in Calgary

February 14, 1988 (or February 23, 1988 as he competed in two competitions)

A fairly unassuming plasterer from the West Country in England became one of the unlikely stars – in fact, nearly the poster boy – of the Olympic Winter Games Calgary 1988.

His story eventually hit the silver screen with a 2016 film entitled Eddie the Eagle starring Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken and Jim Broadbent.

Born Michael Edwards, he picked up the nickname Eddie (down to his surname) at school during which he also picked up a passion for downhill skiing. Not quite good enough to make the grade at international level, he switched his attention to ski jumping instead.

His cause was not helped by the fact he wore glasses which steamed up heavily as he competed, plus he had no financial support so was entirely self-funded.

Edwards found out he had qualified for the Olympics while staying at a mental hospital in Finland, not as a patient but because of his lack of money. A ski jump trainer there was also a painter-decorator and working at the hospital so got permission for Edwards to stay for free.

He then trained with the US team for two weeks before going to Calgary for the Games themselves where he competed in the 70 and 90-metre events just two years after taking up the sport.

Edwards finished last in both events, but became a cult hero both at home and abroad. He was singled out by Games organisers in the final speech, with the words, “you have broken world records and you have established personal bests. Some of you have even soared like an eagle”.

He became an enormous media celebrity, and was whisked off to do the Johnny Carson show in the States after the event.

On his return to the UK, Edwards had to be aided by 30 police officers at Heathrow Airport when greeted by a crowd of 10,000 people.

“For me, getting to those Olympic games was my gold medal. Even though I came 58th, that didn’t really matter. The fact that I got there in the end and lived my dream, that was the most important thing.”

However, Eddie the Eagle’s efforts were not universally welcomed, a new rule introduced whereby ski jumpers of his standard were effectively unable to qualify for the Games.

In later life, he both completed a degree in law and released two songs in Finland and in 2017 he returned to jump in Calgary, the place where he had become a household name 29-years earlier.

 

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