The Eagle Has Landed
During his first appearance as an Olympian, Michael Edwards made an indelible impression on the spectators of the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Unfortunately for him, it was not for the reasons he had hoped. His first jump was unstable and spastic and had caused a panic among the spectators. To those who watched, he seemed an unlikely participant and unsuited for the competition. True enough he landed safely on his first attempt–but the waiving of is hands and the instability of his legs worried on-lookers.
By the time Michael made his second ascent to the top of the enormous ski jump, the crowd was already aware of the reputation that now defined him. Sports commentators began assigning him demeaning nicknames:: Mr. Magoo, Ski Dropper, Falling Brick. As Michael attached his skis and faced down slope, spectators bustled and chatted nervously but excitedly — would he even make it this time? Possibly it was with a grim and morbid curiosity that some in the crowd began to take interest in Michael similar to those Nascar fans who watch in hopes of a terrible crash. He launched forth with an abandon that was similar to his first. Those spectators who were there to see a crash were, again, deprived. Edwards soared, however briefly, and landed safely on the ground. And the crowd, again, held their breath during his airborne moments, and then breathed with relief when he slowed to a stop.
Word rippled through the Olympic village about a fearless ski-jumper who competed with more heart than training. Rumors began to spread — A British ski-jumper who is afraid of heights! His first jump was during the Calgary games! He has no regard for his personal safety! All rumors were, of course, untrue. But his reputation was building cache, and his indomitable smile and ultra-thick glasses were endearing him to a public that loved underdogs. With every subsequent jump, larger crowds began looking forward to that name that now thrilled ski-jump enthusiasts:: Edwards. Never mind that his name was Michael, the crowds cheered and chanted for the jumper who was quickly becoming an Olympic favorite:: “Eddie… Eddie… Eddie!” As his supporters grew in numbers, the announcers changed their tone. Mr. Magoo was now Eddie the Eagle.
Eddie put on quite a show for his fans. He continued to teeter, sway, jump, and land—and the crowds exploded with cheers and applause every time he landed safely. And he landed safely every time.
During the closing ceremony, the president of the Olympic Committee announced “At this Games, some competitors have won gold, some have broken records, and some of you have even soared like an eagle.” Eddie the Eagle stole the show.
This pronouncement was too much for some, however. Shortly after, a barrage of complaints were levied by competitors, trainers, and teams — Eddie made a mockery of the games, some said, he had no right to compete with world class athletes, and worst of all, he got all the attention!
The International Olympic Committee responded to these complaints and established the Eddie the Eagle Rule, requiring athletes to rank in the top 30 percent or among the top 50 competitors in their sport. No longer would the Olympics tolerate participation for the sake of sportsmanship or patriotism. This new and ironically named rule became an unjust legacy for a gentleman who showed the world what can be right with sport and competition. Unfortunately, the Olympic Games were, from then on, concerned only with those who competed for gold.
All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll’d
Fare you well, your suit is cold.
-William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice