In February of 1988, one man changed the rules of winning and losing in a way that had not been seen since King Pyrrhus’s victory over the Roman Republic in 280 B.C. Two millennia later, soaring to new lows, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards showed the world that, although he couldn’t win, he also couldn’t lose.
In case you haven’t Netflixed the Disneyesque pseudo-historical drama on Eddie’s rise and falls, it is truly an incredible tale. The man was a self-taught—possibly masochistic—British ski-jumping enthusiast, who through sheer determination and Olympic legal loopholes, willed his way onto the 1988 British Olympic team. Eddie, a clumsy bloke whose dress and looks reflected this fact (including Coke-bottle glasses), came in last place in his one-and-only Olympic appearance. Since then, the International Olympic Committee has enacted new legislation making it nearly impossible for lesser athletes to gain entry, to ensure “stunts” like this would not happen again. However, they could not undo the Eagle mania that ensued. Eddie became a cult hero, not for his results, but for the sheer force of his resolve to make even the most unlikely dream a reality.
Thirty years after the Eagle’s “Pyrrhic” triumph in Calgary at the 1988 Olympics—to borrow a term coined for a king who claimed victory even after the heaviest losses—Eddie returned to the Canadian Rockies to teach a refresher course in Golden, B.C.
And one ring to rule them all. Photo by Richard Barker
When I arrived at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to ski a few laps with him, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I stayed on the lookout for a 50-something-year-old, globetrotting, biopic-movie-promoting, ex-Olympian ski jumper... whatever that looks like. In the end he was hard to miss. Sporting outlandishly colourful, circular-rimmed children’s glasses, a No Fear turtle neck and tattered leather ski gloves worn down to the Gore-Tex, Eddie could only be Eddie.
For a guy who says he now only skis a week a year, he rips. Although his wrong-foot-forward, open-armed style is of another era, he still isn’t afraid to push the speed limit. Along with a buzzing press group, I spent a succession of 1,200-metre gondola rides listening to just a few of Eddie’s tales of the injuries he sustained— which were staggering. He once tied a pillowcase around his head to hold together a broken jaw because he didn’t have insurance. The affable icon figures he’s broken almost every bone in his body, but “luckily,” he “likes hospital food.”
Even in small-town B.C., 30 years after his loss, everyone wanted to get a photo, a handshake, or a word. All of the attention he received wherever we went made me reflect on what it is people were so enthralled by. After all, he never won anything of note on skis. Most of the time he was in last place. As skiers, our focus is all too often on celebrating big achievements: the first descent, the biggest drop, the most-stylish trick, and not much on the journey, the struggle, the effort. Eddie seems to be the one ski star that is the exception to the rule, and it’s made him a pop-culture phenomenon, even far beyond our sport. His story is a reminder that just because you didn’t stomp, it doesn’t mean you didn’t go big. As Eddie says, “The failures are the people who never get off their bums.”