Fat Men Can't Jump

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, November 1996

Fat Men Can't Jump

He's scaled back on Big Macs--a bit--and poured on the training. Can Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards be serious?
By Todd Balf

Eddie wants respect. as he proceeds with his long-shot quest to qualify in ski jumping for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards promises he's serious this time. In fact, he says he's been serious all along--even if his hugely inept efforts eight years ago in Calgary netted only guffaws (and later, peevish complaints). Dubbed a ski "dropper" by an Italian journalist, the then 24-year-old Brit hurtled his overweight, bespectacled, idiot-grinning countenance off both the 70- and 90-meter jumps, finishing...dead last. No matter; in those two magical weeks Eddie was busy hoofing away his Calgary nights with a line of bosomy "Eaglettes," inking a $65,000 deal with a British tabloid to tell his life story, and fine-dining until he resembled something of a Pillsbury Doughboy (this in a sport in which 8 percent body fat is considered Oprahesque). Of course, not everyone was wild about Eddie, most notably the always-stuffy International Olympic Committee, which claimed he was shamelessly mocking the Games. Thus was born, in 1990, the so-called Eddie the Eagle Rule: Qualifying for the Olympics now requires finishing in the top 50 percent in an international competition. Failing--by a long shot--to qualify for Albertville and Lillehammer, Eddie has since enlisted the financial support of a British charter company, Eagle Airlines, to help fund his run at 1998. His competitive steel thus sharpened, he is adopting previously unexplored methods to ensure victory--for instance, training. We hailed him off the ramp at the jumping facility in Lake Placid, New York, where he's been prepping for that site's Continental Cup next month.

The Eddie the Eagle Rule temporarily dampened your Olympic fire, but it didn't exactly hurt your pocketbook, did it?

Oh, no. The first two years I hardly had a day off. I was flying here, there, and everywhere doing promotional work. I opened ski shops, shoe shops, sport shops, and just about anything you can open. One time I was supposed to dress up as an eagle to open a tourism office in Devon. Nobody could find an eagle outfit, so I had to dress up as a chicken. That was rather embarrassing, but I just kind of clucked around the car park, thinking about the money I was making.

Not to mention your career as a singer, right?

Well, I did have a number-two hit in Finland in 1991.

Which was?

Well, the song was called "Moni Moni Edtu," which means "My Name Is Eddie." It was in Finnish, and I still don't know what I was actually singing. I made about $30,000 from it, and that was just the single. I went on tour with a band and we got something like $3,000 a gig.

You hold the world record for jumping over cars, buses, and people. Any other categories in the offing?

Actually, I want to ski jump over a helicopter while it's hovering off the ground, but it's proving very difficult to put together. I've talked to different ski companies and said, 'Well, look, I could jump over a couple of cars, but if you want something really spectacular I'll jump over a helicopter.'

No offense, but you haven't exactly spent your career positioning yourself as a serious athlete. Why should people bite on this latest attempt?

I wasn't into it so scientifically as I am now. I couldn't afford the price tag of training before I went to Calgary. I was scraping food out of bins, you know, that sort of thing. Nowadays I'm jumping a lot--20 times a day--but I'm also working on technique and physical stuff. I'm doing a lot of running, a lot of weight training, cycling, and just keeping generally fit. I'm getting very close to a personal best.

Which is?

105 meters.

Hmmm. That's about a football field shy of Norwegian Espen Bredesen's world record of 209 meters.

Well, yeah. But that's misleading. There are only two hills in the world you can jump 200 meters on, and I've never been anywhere near those places.

Still, the medal contenders are those skiers who log long gym hours and fanatically watch their weight--not precisely your routine, right?

I'm not that much overweight, and a lot of those guys, they're like anorexic! Even if I didn't eat for the rest of the year I couldn't get like them. My bones are so thick I wouldn't get down below, oh, 160 pounds.

So you're not embracing the low-cal method?

No. I don't want to live off lettuce for the next two years. I want to live off doughnuts and Big Macs.

Ever wish you'd chosen another sport--maybe the luge? Those guys seem to eat well.

Oh, yeah. I used to race downhill, and I wished I'd carried on doing that, because I think I'd be a far better downhiller than I am a jumper.

So what happened to your downhill career?

When I was 17 I raced a guy from the top of the hill to the bottom. We decided the winner could ask this girl out to dinner. Near the finish we collided with each other. I hit a tree and broke my neck and back and was in traction for three weeks, which pretty much ended my downhill days. In the meantime the guy took the girl out to dinner and they got married about a year later. I had only about six months of agony, and he's had it for the last 15 years.

You've managed to snag well-regarded U.S. ski jumping coach Chris Hastings to train you. Was it hard to convince him to take on the Eagle?

Not really. I imagine a lot of coaches out there would find it a great challenge to see whether they can produce a world-class ski jumper out of me.

Do you remember how you felt atop the launch ramp the first time?

I think my bum shriveled up like a prune.

In Calgary, several officials tried to talk you out of competing in the 90-meter jump, right?

The British Olympic Association was definitely a bit worried. There was a lot of speculation as to whether I was going to be safe, especially because of the wind problems they had there. It was great in a way, because it fueled the feeling: Was he going to kill himself or land OK?

So was that the highlight--surviving?

No, the highlight was during the closing ceremonies. There were about 100,000 spectators, and all the athletes were there when the president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, stood up and gave his speech. At one point he said that in Calgary, people had set new goals, created new world records, and some had even flown like an eagle. And then the whole crowd just erupted and they started shouting, 'Ed-die, Ed-die,' and then I got up and waved and they just went poppy. It took like ten minutes before the crowd shut up and let the poor guy finish.

I suppose Samaranch thinks he's had the last laugh?

Maybe, but the whole thing with officialdom has made me want to train harder to say, 'Well, sod you, I wasn't at the Olympics as a clown.' I was entertaining, I was laughing and smiling. But what's wrong with that? Good sport alone is nice, but once you've seen 80 people jump the same way and the same distance, well, it gets pretty dull and boring.

Todd Balf is a contributing editor of Outside.

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