Arnie Wilson: Interviewing Eddie the Eagle
From ski writer and guest contributor Arnie Wilson - Eddie the Eagle on how skiing changed his life, exclusively for Ongosa.
Arnie Wilson (pictured right, with Eddie) writes:
Not only did skiing changed the life of Michael Edwards (later to be world famous as Eddie the Eagle because of his ski-jumping) - it WAS and IS STILL his life. “If I hadn’t started skiing regularly on Gloucester dry ski slope at the age of 13, I would still have been a builder and plasterer who no one had ever heard of” he says. “I’m still a builder and plasterer in my spare time. But that’s because I enjoy it as a peaceful alternative – just me alone with my radio - to the mad roller-coaster of PR events, personal appearances and TV spots I get involved with since the film about me came out a couple of years ago”
Eddie is in much demand since the movie came out, and has a long list of public appearances. “I have engagements all over the world” he said, “making speeches and doing TV appearances etc.”
55 in December this year, Eddie was initially very nervous about how the film would go down. But it was a huge success.
Says Simon Kelton, who wrote the story and shared the screenplay credit: “He was a humble plasterer from Cheltenham, who through a combination of sheer grit, courage bordering on the insane and a bulldog-like stubbornness managed to qualify for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. He did it with only two years training, an astonishing feat given the average jumper takes at least fifteen.
“With no financial backing, he was prepared to do just about anything to fund his skiing. Whether it was dressing up as a chicken to open a restaurant or bolting himself to the top of a Nissan to set a new speed skiing record, if it would help him ski, Eddie was up for it.”
Lake Placid, in New York State, was where Eddie made his first attempt to “fly” – at the 1980 Olympics ski jump.
But it had all started much earlier. “I was barely into my teens when my dad – also a builder and plasterer - took me to Gloucester dry slope one Sunday afternoon. At first I was no better and no worse than anyone else, but I got quite good quite quickly and before long I was going every Sunday. Then it was every Saturday and Sunday! Then during the week as well. I was hooked! I was even doing some jumping back then – jumping off bumps and even jumping into the car park!
“I realised skiing was doing wonders for my confidence. I could talk to people – anyone - on the dry slope whereas if I were in a nightclub, for example, I couldn’t say boo to a goose. And it got me travelling too – far and wide, including not just Canada, but the USA, Italy and other countries.”
One thing we must stress here – which I have been doing for years every time I hear people poking fun at Eddie and suggesting he’s a bumbling skier – au contraire! He was and is a terrific skier. I know this because I skied with him at a race training camp in Austria before he was famous. Back then he had this idea of skiing behind a Harrier jump-jet! I told him not to be so silly. I guess leaping off towering ski jumps was the next worst thing!
He would, at various stages of his love affair with skiing, work as a ski mechanic, instructor, trainer and coach. “You can’t underestimate the benefits of having a good ski instructor” he says, “and companies like Ongosa will find you just that person.”
“l actually did know that before he took up ski jumping, Eddie had been a very good alpine skier,” says Bartelski. “He was an enthusiastic and determined dry slope racer at the Gloucester Dry Ski slope. When he started ski jumping, I was his first sponsor, giving him his first pair of Atomic jumping skis. When I saw Eddie skiing in St Anton, I said: ‘Wow. I never thought I’d say this, Eddie, but you’re a beautiful skier. You’re better than 90% of the people who pooh pooed you during the Olympics’. Eddie was brilliant company. I do love him - I’m his biggest supporter.”
Says Eddie: “Skiing with Konrad was great – I’d known him 30 years and never skied with him!”
The second he discovered he could ski, he never looked back. At one point Eddie was ranked ninth in the world for amateur speed skiing having reached over 170 kmh, and he held a world record for stunt jumping after launching himself successfully over nine cars and six buses.
Says Simon Kelton: “When Eddie finally stepped out onto the top of the coronary-inducing 90m jump in Calgary, in 1988, he was greeted by a hundred thousand fans chanting his name. His cheery, self-effacing British humour and unstoppable determination had endeared him to the world. That same week he had been interviewed by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show with his childhood hero Burt Reynolds. President Reagan had walked out of a conference on nuclear disarmament to watch him fly.
Eddie’s outrageous dream and disarming persona had connected with millions of people around the globe.”
Even now, nearly three decades on, Eddie finds himself constantly stopped by people wanting autographs, selfies or just to shake his hand and congratulate him for his achievement. There will never be another Eddie the Eagle!
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