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Truth: Eddie the Eagle

The accidental 1988 Olympic hero on learning to ski jump in five months, the conspiracy to keep him down, and plastic surgery.
By Jason Daley
posted: 12/29/2009
Eddie the Eagle
Photo by: Bill Herriot/CNS

Remember Yvonne van Gennip’s speed-skating records at the 1988 Calgary Olympics? Neither do we. But you may recall raising your Labatt Blue to Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, the British ski jumper with the Hubble-telescope specs, massive underbite, and permanent grin. Though many thought he was too tall, too heavy, and too old, Edwards got to the Calgary Games through determination and his unmatched enthusiasm. Despite finishing 58th out of 58, Edwards, now 45, embodied the Olympic spirit for millions of viewers.

The media created this image of me that was not right. They made me a Mr. Magoo who had everything go wrong and was carrying two stones of fat. I was actually very fit, running 10 miles a day and in the gym two hours a night.

I went from a beginner to the 120-meter jump in five months. It takes most jumpers 10 years to achieve what I did in two.

There were a lot of jumpers on the World Cup circuit from places like Spain, Bulgaria, and Holland who I could beat. They just didn’t make the Olympics.
I did 85,000 jumps, fell over 30 times, and injured myself seven times. Over the years I’ve broken quite a few things. I fractured my skull twice, broke my collarbone, injured my kidneys. Minor inconveniences. I just brush myself off.

The FIS made a regulation the Americans call the “Eddie the Eagle Rule” so I couldn’t compete in the next Olympics. I was kicked off the British team because they thought I made a mockery of the sport. I wanted to get better and show people that I was a decent, middle-of-the-pack jumper, but they never let me back in. Instead I had to become Eddie the Eagle for a few years and live off that.

The ski-jumping world wanted to make sure Eddie the Eagle was not going to be seen again. It was a shame really. The sport went from page 47 to page one. I think there’s room in sport not only for Tiger Woods and gold medalists, but for guys who don’t win but are entertaining to watch.

I’ve changed a lot since Calgary, and I’m surprised when people recognize me on the street. I had surgery on my jaw and eyes. I had a whale of a time being a celebrity, but now it’s calmed down and I can lead a normal life. I own a plastering business and do speeches as Eddie the Eagle almost every week. It’s actually a nice dual personality.

It’s been 22 years since the Calgary Olympics. People thought no one would remember Eddie the Eagle. It goes to show what a powerful message I portrayed at the Games, just by being there. I was a David against all these Goliath countries, and people thought, “This is what the Olympics are all about.”

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