“I think a little bit of wee just came out!”
I nearly made that quote from the new film my title. Thus spake Eddie as he experiences the rush of ski jumping, learning to let go and soar for the first time.
I am not sure that I can name another olympian, especially not from thirty years ago. But a non sport follower recalls this rather unconventional skier, whose journey to Calgary in 1988 is the subject of a new film starring Hugh Jackman as his somewhat fictional trainer and Taron Egerton as Eddie himself.
The film differs from the real Michael Edwards’ life – the Eddie came as a nickname from his surname and his real family call him by his real forename.
Eddie was more reckless as a child, as his autobiography recounts; the film implies he was weak and sickly, but his frequent hospital visits were due to stunts. He also was good at skiing, and other sports – something that is downplayed by press and script.
His father was not boorish and opposed to Eddie’s ambitions as in this often clichéd and formulaic film. His on screen father only is proud of Eddie when he has made an achievement and others are supporting him – but his mother stood by him and encouraged him whilst he was unknown and ridiculed. She’d have been proud whatever had happened on the slopes. Such a father would have risked his son.
Eddie’s siblings are stripped away, and so is his Cheltenham roots. Hoorah, they have the accent right in Eddie, but his regency terraced home in Gloucestershire’s spa town became a generic street that looked more like over exposed London, and his father doesn’t share his accent.
The baddies – the naked hairless Scandinavian team – are too bad; the fellow Brits the usual faces in such films, stereotypes also abounding there too – and then the finale is the appearance of an American veteran coach.
What angered me was how Eddie is still reported – that he was an embarrassment to the Olympics. I suppose he was – because he took the Olympic ethos back to its roots, subverted all the values associated with the games, and stole the attention from those who considered themselves more worthy.
No, he didn’t have the right outfit, looks or body shape, accent or school. Yes, he started far later than most competitors and came to a high standard in under 2 years. He came without a ski jump team, when sport is all about teams – sometimes in the wrong sense. In an event that’s got ridiculously serious, he had fun, and he made people laugh. When medals had become everything, he was happy to come last.
He wasn’t rich, but his family got into debt to stop money being the intended obstacle.
Eddie The Eagle reminds us that the inaugural ethos of the Olympics was about taking part, not winning; and that the struggle, not the triumph, was what mattered. We rally for him in the film as much as the public did for the real Eddie. We see his courage to return to the ski lift when no-one around him thinks he is capable of the jump, let alone being worthy to represent his country.
For the olympics is about prestige, gaining sponsors who in turn share in values such as achievement and excellence – boring buzzwords which the film rightly lampoons. It relates to my earlier post about the Counting Thief, who would see points and measurements, medals and ranking as all that matters. The young champion “Flying Fin” rightly sees a connection between Eddie and himself, despite the fact that their names are likely to be at opposite ends of the results list. The Fin’s words actually were negative, ready to beat himself up and by extension, Eddie too, for not having given their own highest effort, whatever the outcome. Flying Fin could break records and be given a gold trophy, but he might still feel dissatisfied. But what was special about his brief speech to Eddie is that he recognised here was someone else who did this because it was a spirit level passion.
The ranking and prizes didn’t matter to either, in a good sense.
Eddie was right to say that the Olympics is meant to be an open competition. I hoped to learn that he had returned for other olympics, but they changed the rules and so he was debarred, and they also tried to ensure that no-one like him could follow.
Now the seriousness is so high that competitors have to undergo intrusive tests, lest they have an unfair advantage. People can’t accept their natural bodies, they must mould (no fat or hair) them and forever push themselves, always having to beat last time – just like company profits.
This film pulls us back to the original Olympian ideals, to the kind of hero we really admire – and whether or not his flapping arms amuse you, his spirit must warm yours.
I hope that the Eagle again soars, in whatever way he wishes to, and that his flight encourages others to take off, in whatever their dreams may be.
[The use of capital O or not for Olympics is deliberate]