Mon, September 23, 2013

Ex-Olympian holds onto resentment

By Thane Burnett, QMI Agency


Ski-jumping's clown prince Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards unwittingly became the face of all that was unique about the Calgary Olympics. (File)


STROUD, ENGLAND - Good news world. Your favorite Olympian is still soaring high enough to slightly burn his forehead.

Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the visually challenged British bloke-next-door who brought ski jumping down to Earth during the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, is taking a break and descending from the local roofing job he's sweating over.

He's used to the summer heat and obviously never minds the heights -- he following his dad into the plastering and handyman trade -- though it was that Canadian winter where Edwards was reborn almost a quarter of a century ago.

Eddie, the unlikely everyman with the Coke-bottle glasses, distracted us all from whoever ended up capturing gold in ski jumping back then.

A relatively good skier, though God knows not a great jumper with his forever fogged-up glasses and dodo bird-like grace, was Britain's only ski jumping Olympian.

But he made it to the heights, and had frozen brass gonads to show for it, so the crowds loved each death-defying attempt at just surviving to see last place.

Ask most anyone what athlete they remember from those Olympics, and it'll be Edwards or the equally fearless Sunday drivers from the Jamaican bobsled team.

So I've taken a train into the rolling, sheep trimmed hills of Great Britain, to ask Edwards how he feels about the 2012 Games arriving at his doorstep?

We walk through this quiet English town, past young girls busking Top 40 hits for pocket change, and settle on a bench with cups of abysmal English coffee.

Gone are the glasses -- they've been replaced by implanted lenses.

He's now married, with two young girls who are not yet old enough to know their father once flew off the very end of the world.

He's writing a book. A film of his life waves back from the horizon.

He ended up getting a law degree, but hasn't gone the extra step to get his papers, preferring the freedom of his plastering trade.

And no, he says, he won't be watching the opening ceremony.

He likes the ski jumping of the more intimate Winter Games, but, honestly, "I'm just not a great fan of watching sports. I tend to watch a lot of movies (when the Olympics take place)."

Maybe he'll tune in for sprinter Usain Bolt's race, because it'll be over quickly.

Ignoring the Games may well be, in part, because Edwards still has a bit of resentment for the way Olympic and ski federation officials treated him after he stole much of the spotlight in '88 and pushed him out of competing.

"I hate authority," he allows. "(I was) one little bloke against these powers." Though we all like the little guy fighting the odds. The bewildered arrogance of ignoring the wax dripping from feathers.

Sure, there's the morbid curiosity of not knowing if lead-weight Eric "The Eel" Moussambani would drown during the 100-metre freestyle race in Sydney in 2000, or if Ghanaian skier Kwame "Snow Leopard" Nkrumah-Acheampong would be lost forever in a drift during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But Eddie believes we long for athletes who are slightly less super and more human.

"I think I was one of the last true Olympians," he reasons. "I think it's become so professional. It's all about win, win, win and money, money, money and how much he or she will make if she wins the gold." Not that his leap of faith hasn't put food on his own table.

Today, at 48 years old, about half his income still comes from appearances, speeches and commercials.

Apparently, there's a demand for Eddie on cruise ships.

Not that he's ready to retire The Eagle persona.

When you've been up so high, you miss the way the sun hits you. He now wants to take up "ski flying" -- think ski jumping after way too many Red Bulls.

"Before I'm too old," he laments.

Which was just what he said after he survived the winter of '88.