WINNIPEG – Former Olympic folk hero Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards flew down Winnipeg streets Thursday morning as he proudly hoisted the Olympic torch in frigid weather.
The British ski jumper who gained a cult following during the 1988 Calgary Olympics – despite coming in dead last – carried the torch for several blocks as people honked their horns and shouted encouragement.
For Edwards, the experience was a thrill.
“It’s almost as good as actually jumping in Calgary 22 years ago, but a lot safer,” Edwards laughed.
The 45-year-old said he feels honoured to be back in Canada and thanked the country for including him in the celebrations for the Vancouver Games, which start next month.
“I was immensely proud and honoured to be invited back to Canada, to take part in the whole Olympic dream again,” he said as he prepared to accept the torch on a snow-covered Winnipeg street.
“It’s wonderful – 22 years later I’m back and all part of it. Being a part of the whole Olympic relay is wonderful. Now I’ve done both sides. I’m happy. I can die a happy man!”
Edwards made a name for himself around the world during his appearance at the Calgary Games. The Brit had been ski jumping for just two years when he decided he wanted to participate in 1988 as the country’s first ski jumper.
From the beginning, he endeared himself to crowds with his fogged-up Coke-bottle glasses, prominent underbite and permanent smile. He finished last in the competition and people joked paramedics should be waiting at the bottom.
Yet Edwards was mobbed by thousands throughout the Games and people chanted his name as he tentatively launched himself off the ski jump tower at Canada Olympic Park.
His poor performance and determination didn’t impress everyone. Ski officials felt he was bringing the sport into disrepute and tightened requirements for Olympic hopefuls. New rules restricted spots to top athletes.
Although he continued training after 1988, Edwards hasn’t ski jumped competitively since. He is now married, is the father of two girls and has returned to his job as a plasterer in the U.K.
Despite his experience, Edwards said he still believes in the Olympic dream.
“Anybody can go to the Olympics,” he said following his torch run. “If you are in your sport for your country, you should be able to go to the Olympic Games and represent your sport for your country, bringing people together in the interests of sport. It’s a fantastic Olympic ideal and I uphold it as much as I can.”