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Sunday, 23 December 2012

#58: Olympic Fever II: Soaring Like an Eddie

I was gripped by Olympic Fever once more four years after LA – in fact, struck down by a double dose of Five-ringed Fantastica.

1988 was the penultimate year in which both the Summer and Winter Games were staged – though in different cities – since the white version launched in Chamonix, France in 1924.

This time round, Canada played host to its second Olympiad – Calgary hosting the XV (15th) Winter Games in February, while Seoul, South Korea assumed the honours for the Summer Games in September/October.

While there were many monumental Olympic-medal-winning performances to shout about at Calgary Olympic Park (none of which I can recall), the most memorable event for me (as a 15-year-old Brit) was the ski-jumping, featuring Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards.

Eddie, who famously wore bifocal glasses to address far-sightedness and had to keep them on when competing, was the British ski-jumping champion. But on the world stage, he was a 'little further back in the pack'.

His biggest issue was the glasses. When covered by ski goggles, ventilation was at a premium and his bifocals would invariably steam up. The first question anyone asked when the TV cameras zoomed in on a close-up of Eddie’s face as he prepared to jump was: “Can this guy actually see where the hell he's going?!”

It's fair to say, that if there's one event where you want your vision to at least be within a stone's throw of 20/20 range, it's in the ski-jump.

As referenced above, Eddie could jump – just not very far. Which meant the predictable use by commentators of the phrase: "The Eagle has landed!" would invariably hit viewer earwaves roughly 0.00111 seconds after "The Eagle has launched!"

I felt a particular kinship with Eddie, as he was born in Cheltenham (where I spent a portion of my 20’s) and is now based in the village of Woodchester, near Stroud – two spots I frequented often during my teenage years, after my family moved to Gloucestershire.

Eddie had been a decent downhill skier, but narrowly missed out on the GB team which travelled to the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

He switched to ski-jumping as it was the cheapest form of skiing and offered him his best chance of making the Olympics. Not least because he was the only guy in a country (the UK) with no ski-jumps and just a small knob of snow at the top of Ben Nevis to choose ski-jumping as a career.

Ski-jumping also helped satisfy a childhood dream to be a stuntman...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.  

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