Eddie The Eagle is the name of the upcoming British-American film, based on the real life events from the life of Michael Edwards, who is best known as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. The movie showcases the hardships endured by Eddie in his unwavering resolve to participate in Olympic ski jumping. In fact, he did become the first competitor to ever represent Great Britain at Olympics in the ski jumping category.
Eddie garnered worldwide fame by competing in the Olympics, not for winning, but for spectacularly losing at it. He was an amateur, and had no delusions of winning gold. He participated in the competition for the competition’s sake, which is the true spirit of the Olympics. When he made his jump, he wasn’t smooth like other competitors. In fact, when he landed, the commentators screamed “The Eagle has landed!” This underdog and his perseverance caught the imagination of the masses and stole the show.
Back home, he was loved, hated, laughed at, ridiculed, and even admired. But, a large part of what made The Eagle what he is, is largely forgotten, or perhaps never given much attention to in the first place.
The movie Eddie The Eagle sheds some light on how sports is losing its competitive spirit and is becoming a monopolistic playground, fueled by sponsorships. Eddie’s story begins as a son of a plasterer. His father, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s father, were all plasterers. Eddie was only 13 year old, when he took shine to skiing. He was really good at it, and even before he turned 18, he was already competing with the national teams in Great Britain. His first attempt at the qualifying rounds of the Olympics was in 1984. Although he was a good skier, he did not qualify for the games.
He had no money to hire a professional trainer. To improve his chances of making it into the next Olympic, he went to USA. Here, he trained and participated in the races that were more challenging than the ones in Britain. He could not even afford the prices for the lift tickets at this point. If he had to realize his Olympic dream, he had to try something new. His solution was to drop skiing, and instead participate in the ski jumping competition at the Olympics, in which Britain had no representation at all. Without any competition in Great Britain, he stood a better chance of making it into the Olympics.
With no money to buy the required equipment, he borrowed them from a friend, who was helping him with his training. The boots did not fit, and he had to wear six pairs of shoes to make them fit. This was the phase when he did not have the backing of anyone financially. Not his country’s government; not a business sponsor. While Olympic participants and aspirants in countries like the United States are granted huge sponsorships and funding to pursue their dreams, Eddie had no such luxuries. Even when there are some sponsors, they are only limited to aspirants of a few high profile athletic events, which are guaranteed to garner immense attention. Other aspirants are hardly offered any support.
While his ski jumping practices continued, Eddie’s job as a plasterer continued. In fact, when he finally won the qualification for participating in the 1988 Winter Olympics ski jumping competition, he was living in a Finnish mental hospital, due to his inability to make arrangements for alternative accommodation. This was the state of the Great Britain’s first competitor ever in the ski jumping competition. In fact, even that year, he was the sole competitor from Great Britain. When he had to commit more hours to training, he quit plastering, and tried other odd jobs to make ends meet. He shoveled snow, scrubbed floors, and did everything he could to support himself. While his practice continued, his jumping distances improved. Eventually, he broke the unofficial British record of 70 meters in ski jumping.
He had already gained some popularity by now as an amateur who made the ski jumping look difficult. In fact, when he visited Calgary for the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Italian team gave him a new helmet, while the Austrians provided him his skis. Eddie once shared that he did not have money to buy a new helmet. During his training, he used to tie his old helmet using a string. During one of those practice sessions, his string broke and it flew farther than him. Naturally, the assistance from Italian and Austrian teams was received by Eddie with deep gratitude. At the event, he came last in both 70 meter and 90 meter jumps. This is the story of how Eddie had his moment of success. His success was not winning the competition, but participating in it.
While many praised his spirit of participation, considering that he was an amateur, not everyone shared the same views. Some felt that he made of a mockery of the sports and other competitors. In response, immediately after the 1988 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made the participation into Olympics tougher by making a rule. This rule requires the Olympic aspirants to participate in international events and rank at least in the top 30 percent or top 50 places, whichever is less. This rule essentially kept the amateurs out of the games.
The movie, Eddie the Eagle, sheds light on how sponsorship can play a significant role in the success or failure of a sports aspirant. Not everyone has the tenacity to live off of meager means and yet chase their dream with a singular focus. This is one of the reasons why economies, in which sponsorships for sports aspirants is popular, fare far better in the international championships, such as the Olympics. These economies have a kind of monopoly on sports in which they participate, thanks to the immense sponsorship they enjoy. Yet, some would argue that the true spirit of the Olympics is lost in the intensity of these cut-throat competitions.