29 Apr 2016

Michael 'Eddie' Edwards - unlikely ski jumping hero

From Nine To Noon, 9:36 am on 29 April 2016

The plasterer-turned-ski jumper Michael Edwards – aka 'Eddie the Eagle' – was the first Briton to qualify for the Olympic Games in ski jumping.

After narrowly missing out on being selected for the British ski team for the Calgary games, he decided to switch to ski jumping, as there were no other compatriot ski jumpers to compete with for a place.

With no official funding, second-hand equipment and his plasterer's wages, Eddie made it to Calgary.

He finished last in each of his events, but in the process became hugely popular with the British public – if not with his fellow competitors, some of whom wrote hate mail, accusing him of making a mockery of the sport.

After the Olympics, Eddie appeared on TV chat shows and even recorded a hit song in Finnish.

The 2016 film Eddie the Eagle stars Taron Egerton as Eddie and Hugh Jackman as his trainer.

Interview highlights

On his childhood:

I was pretty accident-prone... I was always breaking something climbing walls and trees and always wanting to push my boundaries and do things more and more dogey and dangerous things mum and dad thought i would grow out of it. As I grew up I got worse and ski jumping was just the perfect sport for me.

On his start in ski jumping:

I was racing internationally, but it was very expensive. I saw the ski jumps whilst in America. Realised Britain had never had a ski jumper before so I thought I’d give it a go, and 20 months later I was standing at the top of the ski jump in Calgary qualifying for the Olympic games.

You’re supposed to start ski jumping at age 5. What age were you?

I started at 22. Oh, it’s very dangerous you’re standing at a 120-metre or 90-metre jump. You can see and feel a million different reasons why you shouldn't go down, and you have to convince yourself that you’re not only going to go down you're going to jump further than you’ve ever jumped before, and to do that you’ve gotta risk more than you’ve ever risked before, knowing that if you get it wrong the consequences could be horrendous, could be death or serious injury.

But that’s what I loved about the sport it was 95 percent psychological and only 5 percent physical effort. I’ve done 60 thousand jumps in my lifetime, and I was just as scared to do the last as I was to do the first.

On his worst ski jumping accidents:

Fractured skull, broken jaw, broken collarbone, broke ribs, damaged my kidney, my knee. It would be easier to name the bones I haven’t broken rather than the ones I have.

On his drive to get to the Olympics:

It was a dream of mine since i was about 8 years old to go to an Olympic games and I didn’t know I’d be doing it ski-jumping that was just the way it turned out. I was determined to do whatever it took. That meant sleeping in cars, sleeping in cow sheds, and barns, it meant scraping food out of bins, borrowing equipment and stealing equipment. You know, doing the best with what I had. I had no money, training facilities, no snow, no ski jumps, no trainers, and I just wanted to go the Olympic games and be Britain’s first ski jumper.

On his newfound fame and fans:

A week or two before Calgary Olympics, I did a news item on the BBC news, saying ‘I’m Eddie Edwards and I’m Britain's first ever ski jumper going to the Calgary Olympics in two weeks time.’ And people sent me cheques and money and things to help me on my way. I flew to Calgary and there was a great big banner saying 'Welcome to Calgary Eddie the Eagle' and I said 'Who’s that?' and they said 'It’s you'. And that was it - the whole world nicknamed me and it was wonderful.

On the other ski-jumpers being less than happy with him qualifying this quickly:

One or two jumpers didn’t like what happened they were saying ‘I’m the best jumper in the world I should be the most popular” But 95 percent of the other jumpers thought it was fantastic. They said I took the the sport of Ski-jumping from page 47 to page 1 for two or three years afterwards it was a tremendous boost for the sports that was desperately needed.