British ground calamitous Calgary flier

'THE EAGLE' HAS LANDED

February 16, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Still smarting from his rejection by the British Olympic Association, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards was in Canada yesterday to do something similar to what he had been banned from doing at the Winter Olympics in France.

"I think it has something to do with skiing," he said before leaving here.

A finance company in Toronto had hired the earnest young daredevil who put Great Britain firmly in last place in the ski jump event four years ago in Calgary, Alberta.

"The company [in Canada] sponsors motor racing, so I told them if they bring up some cars, I'll ski over them," Edwards said. "Or maybe we can get some of the company executives to sit in chairs and I can jump over them."

It's been like that for The Eagle since he covered himself with a kind of glory -- and his country with utter chagrin -- at the Calgary Games in 1988.

These days he skis off the tops of buildings, jumps through plate glass windows and wire walks between flying airplanes.

Meanwhile, Britain has nobody entered in the ski jump in this year's Games. Edwards thinks he was excluded because he was too unorthodox, not because he was an embarrassment.

"I'm training to become a stunt man for films on television," he said. "When I decide to retire from ski jumping, I'll go straight into stunt work."

It's a career move that may offer him some relief from the perils of soaring off high ski towers. He has already broken his collarbone, then his jaw, doing that.

"The jaw sticks out about an inch more than it ought to," he said. "A doctor in Baltimore called me up once and volunteered to fix it for me. Maybe I'll go there."

The Eagle, a light-haired man of 28, won no medals at the Calgary Games. He never even come close to winning one. But he did win the affection of tens of thousands of people, spectators at the Games and on television, for his rather formless leaps into space and graceless descents, and his earnest willingness to go back up and try again.

He also earned about $700,000 in subsequent endorsements, personal appearances and commercials, most of which he then lost through mismanagement or fraud, depending on whom you talk to. There was a time you could buy an Eddie the Eagle T-shirt, but they're not much in demand anymore.

But worst of all, he lost his chance to compete for Britain again when the British Olympic Association changed the rules in such a way as to virtually assure that The Eagle would never fly for Britain again at a Winter Olympics.

The BOA decided that no one could represent this country who was not among the top 50 ski jumpers in the world. Edwards, it should be clear by now, is not in that company.

But it wouldn't be a good idea to count him out for good. Edwards is determined to fly again for the Union Jack, two years hence, at the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

"I'm still jumping," Edwards said in an interview yesterday, showing a flash of the determination that made his name, briefly, a household word.

"I was in Bulgaria, France, Austria and Switzerland, training with an Austrian ski jump coach. I'm training as hard as I can with my jumping, and I hope that when the time comes, my performance will speak for me.

"If it doesn't, and they don't let me go, I'm going to kick up a stink again."

How did Eddie Edwards, a poor but honest plasterer from Cheltenham, find himself at the top of a ski jump tower with not much of an idea how to get down?

It is a good question, especially since there aren't any such towers in the United Kingdom, nor enough snow to make skiing a national pastime.

Edwards took up jumping in Lake Placid, N.Y., mainly because it was cheaper than what he was doing, downhill racing. It seems Edwards went over there, with a license from the British Ski Federation, to represent his country in an amateur event.

But he ran out of money. He couldn't pay for the lifts and other expenses of competing in the downhill and had to turn to washing dishes, scrubbing floors and shoveling snow to finance his career. He looked around to see what other paths to glory might be open to him.

Jumping, he found, had a certain appeal. It also didn't cost as much. You could climb the tower without a lift, didn't need the same expensive equipment or wardrobe. All you had to do was get up there, then come down real fast.

Edwards tried it, wobbled a bit but landed upright.

C7 From then on his career, so to speak, was launched.

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