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On This Date in Sports February 23, 1988

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Matti Nykanen of Finland completes the Gold Medal sweep in Ski Jumping, winning the large hill with jumps of 120.8 meters and 103.2 meters, for a total of 224 meters while Erik Johnsen of Norway gets the Silver and Matjaz Debelak of Yugoslavia takes the Bronze Medal. However, it is the last place jumper who wins everyone’s heart as England’s Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards steals the show after his jumps combine for 57.5 meters.

Michael Edwards, nicknamed Eddie for his surname was born on December 5, 1963, in Cheltenham, England. Despite being of average height and average sight and lacking coordination, and having poor vision, Edwards dreamed of representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games. Michael Edwards attempted several different sports without success, before discovering the sport of ski jumping, a sport in which nobody else from Britain was competing in.

Earning the nickname Eddie the Eagle, Edwards began training for the sport while working with a pair of American coaches John Viscome and Chuck Berghorn in Lake Placid, New York. The self-funded Edwards had to wear several pairs of socks to make his boots fit, even though he was 20lbs heavier than even the biggest ski jumpers were. While training, Michael Edwards ran into problems right away as his thick-lensed glasses often fogged up under his goggles. With the hopes of qualifying for the Olympics, as the only British competitor at the 1987 World Championships, Edwards ranked 55th in the world and earned his spot in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Michael Edwards with his thick glasses hardly looked like an Olympic athlete, was most thought he was crazy for even trying to compete in the Winter Games. While he was not training for the Olympics, Eddie the Eagle worked and lived rent-free at a mental hospital.

In the Normal Hill event on February 14th at the 1988 Winter Olympics, Eddie the Eagle got his first chance to fly, though his flight was not very long as his score was 69.2, finishing dead last among 58 other competitors, less than half the distance earned by the next lowest score posted by Spain’s Bernat Sola. Meanwhile, Matti Nykanen of Finland won the Gold Medal, while Pavel Ploc and Jiri Malec of Czechoslovakia took Silver and Bronze.

While some scoffed at Eddie the Eagle, with the Italian Press calling him a ski dropper for his low scores, fans in England and Canada were won over by Edwards’ spirit and enthusiasm. Michael Edwards took to the jumping platform again nine days later, in the Large Hill Event. Once again, the Eagle’s jumps were far from impressive as finished dead last with a total of 57.5, finishing last among 55 other jumpers, with Todd Gillman of Canada being the next worst with 110.8 total among two jumps. Despite his lack of success Eddie the Eagle would be singled out for his spirit during the games’ closing ceremonies.

For Matti Nykanen nicknamed the “Flying Fin” it was two individual Gold Medals, to go along with his Gold and Silver from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Combined with a Gold Medal in the Team Event in 1988, Nykanen is one of the most decorated Ski Jumpers in the history of the Olympic Games, being the first to win both events in the same Olympics. However, there would be no major film based on his Olympic triumphs. Instead “Eddie the Eagle” three decades later had his own story produced and somewhat fictionalized by Hollywood in 2016.

Michael Edwards would be grounded following the 1988 Winter Olympics, as the International Olympic Committee adopted the “Eddie the Eagle Rule”, requiring all Olympic hopefuls to be placed in the top 30% or Top 50, whichever was fewer for their given events. However, occasionally some other Eddie the Eagles slip into the games, like Elizabeth Swaney a Freestyle Skier from Hungary who competed in the halfpipe earlier this week without attempting a trick.