We all love an underdog story. They come along and remind us of the unyielding spirit that human beings possess. They show us something about ourselves that we long thought to have departed. Our hopes, dreams and salvation. Who didn’t love and root for Frodo Baggins, or the old man Santiago, or Oliver Twist and Harry Potter. It may be hard to imagine now but Barack Obama was very much considered the unlikely pick when he entered the Democratic race in 2008.
Silvester Stallone’s Rocky resonated with film audiences for this very same reason. So saccharine is the story that the Academy Awards committee then couldn’t help but give it the Best Picture Award over the much superior Taxi Driver. Life even imitated art when Buster Douglas knocked out “Iron” Mike against all odds in one of the biggest sporting upsets ever.
The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada though must have been the ultimate purveyor of real life stories of unlikely longshots. It was the occasion that the likeable Jamaica national bobsled team first came to the world’s attention (ever seen Cool Runnings?), and the very same one that birthed the legend of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards.
At first glance, for a person like myself who is unfamiliar with Winter sports, a British ski jumper is not a novelty. They have winters full of snow over there anyhow right? But as it turns out, Britain had never before 1988 had any meaningful tradition in the sport. In fact they had never taken a jumper to an Olympics before.
For Eddie (compellingly played by Welsh actor Taron Egerton) however, his story wasn’t more about blazing a trail than it was stubbornly fulfilling his single-minded ambition to take part in an Olympic sport, any Olympic sport. He only took up ski jumping just months before the Calgary Games after failing to make the cut in the downhill skiing team. A sport that to be any good at should be taken up at the very latest, six years old.
Nothing about him suggested he was ever going to be a sportsperson to begin with, let alone one in the Olympics. As a child he had a Forrest Gump type brace fixed on one of his legs. He wore the biggest, dorkiest glasses to aid with his eyesight. To top it all off he was an overall blob of a person with an obvious lack of athleticism.
Outside of his own limitations, no one other than his mother believed in his dreams. Even his own father constantly discouraged him in attempts to drag him back to reality. The British Olympic officials devised all manner of schemes to try and deny “disgraceful Eddie” a spot in the Olympics squad. His British colleagues and fellow opponents belittled him in every way possible.
Yet he charged ahead, just him and his lifelong dream against the world. With a lot of self-training and some much needed help from Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a drunken fallen star of the sport, Eddie won the hearts of a billion sports fans all across the globe.
His achievements at Calgary ‘88 are remembered in Olympics lore as “the heroic failure”. Eddie became the embodiment of the Olympics spirit intended by the games’ founder Pierre de Coubertin when he said: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” Eddie’s inspirational achievements can be seen shining bright within generations of unlikely Olympians, amongst them Kenya’s own “YouTube Man” Julius Yego.
Eddie the Eagle plays out like an Aerosmith/Bon Jovi mashup anthem. Watching it feels like the first time you fell in love. And it tastes like mom’s Sunday cooking. It is positively impetuous and unbearably affectionate. A must-watch.
Kenya never stops Buzzing. You shouldn't either