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EDDIE THE EAGLE: THE ASPIRING DOWNHILL SKIER WHO BECAME BRITAIN'S FIRST OLYMPIC JUMPER

At the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Michael ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards became Britain’s first ever ski jumper. Despite finishing last in the 70m and 90m events, Eddie was a ski jumping world record holder who became an inspiration for his tireless dedication and desire to test himself against the best. Here is what we can learn from the Eagle next time we’re pushing ourselves on and off the mountain.


From Gloucester to New York

inspiring story + Britains first ever ski jumper

Photo: Konrad Bartelski

 

Every waking hour was spent at Gloucester Ski Centre. That’s where I put on a pair of skis for the very first time back in 1976. I loved it. I lived in Cheltenham so it was only 10 miles away from my house. It became my home; I was up there every night after school, all weekend and school holidays. I lived and breathed skiing.

 

I loved travelling. When I left school at 16-17 years old, I went straight out to Italy and spent six months out there having a whale of a time. That really gave me the bug. My parents brought me a Volkswagen caravanette, so I drove around Europe. It was exciting driving through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. I used to listen to my Lionel Richie and Billy Ocean cassettes going from jump to jump and competition to competition.

 

I worked for the same resort for three seasons on the trot. It was very small but I learnt Italian and my skiing really took off there. I raced in Europe for a season before deciding to leave for Lake Placid, New York.

 

Whatever it Takes

When I travelled across the pond I flew to New York, slept in the Port Authority Bus Terminal overnight and then got the Greyhound bus up to Lake Placid, which was beautiful. I went to Lake Placid because, mainly, I thought that it would be cheaper; the standard of skiing may not be quite as high as Europe, but I could get my international points to qualify for the Europa and World Cup.

 

I soon realised that it was expensive and I could not carry on leasing and skiing downhill there. That’s when I saw the ski jumps. I realised that Britain had lots of alpine, cross-country and biathlon skiers, but we’ve never had a jumper. I thought I’d give it a go and see what happens.

 

People don’t realise what it took for me to get to those Olympic Games. I was sleeping in the car, cow sheds and barns and scraping food out of bins, but it didn’t matter because I was doing what I wanted to do. It all worked out in the end. Even if I hadn’t gotten to the Olympics, it was still a great experience.

Becoming Eddie the Eagle

When I skied on the dry slopes atGloucester, I jumped over my mates, over cars and off the bottom of the slope into the car park. When I taught in Italy, I used to line my class up at the end of a lesson and jump over them too. I was doing all of these weird and wonderful challenges without realising that this would be my ground training for ski jumping.

 

Going from alpine equipment to Nordic was the biggest change. It felt very strange but everything else wasn’t too bad. I was already a very good skier, racing internationally. I was always quite well balanced, fit and flexible, which helped. I was as comfortable jumping in the air as I was skiing on the snow. The first couple of months were actually quite easy on 10, 15 and 40m jumps. I moved up quickly. It wasn’t until I got up to the 90m and 120m when it got serious and I really had to concentrate.

 

My mentality was to do the very best I could and jump as far as possible. My main motivation was that I wanted to jump further than the day before.

Training with Legends

Because I was on my own, I was invited to train with all of these different teams – Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway. It was lovely meeting these legends, learning from them and training with them. They were the best in the world, phenomenal athletes and fantastic jumpers.

 

To be in the Games, the biggest sporting event in the world, and Britain’s first ever Olympic ski jumper, was wonderful. I was a pioneer of the sport. Getting to the Olympics was a major goal for me but I had lots of other little goals which helped me on the way, like jumping 50, 70, 90 and then 120m. If you’re doing something that you really enjoy, get out there and do it as much as you can. Never lose sight of your end goal and do everything you can to make your dream come true.

 


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