Many of you will have seen the 2016 film about Michael Edwards, otherwise known as British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle”. His personal story is quite well known but is a real testament to the power of determination.
Claim to Fame
The story of Edwards ski jumping career is memorably told in the screenplay. The main highlight of which has to be his appearance at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary where he (almost predictably) came last in both the 70m and 90m events. However in the process he set a British ski jumping record that stood for 13 years.
Whilst entertaining with many comedic moments, the film tends to underplay his personal challenges.
From ugly duckling to swan
In his path to the Olympics, luck wasn’t on Edwards’ side:
- He took up ski jumping after he failed to make progress as a downhill skier;
- As a ski jumper he was heavier than most competitors which would put him at a considerable disadvantage;
- As he didn’t have a sponsor he had to pay his own way, initially borrowing equipment to train;
- At one point he was so short of money he lived in a Finish mental hospital, as it afforded cheap accommodation and not as a patient!; and
- He was famously far sighted, wearing his ‘bottle bottom’ glasses which tended to mist up when he was jumping. These became well known as Eddies ‘trademark’.
On top of this he had to deal with a sports establishment that didn’t want him to compete. Despite all of this, he managed to fulfil his dream of appearing in the Olympics no matter what. Its testament to his determination. It’s the same grit, spirit or sheer ‘bloody mindedness’ that sees people who have been through difficult challenges in life refuse to be held down by them.
The question that this brings to mind is – if you were to benchmark your determination does it measure up to Edwards unshakeable pursuit of his dreams, no matter what?. Whilst he wasn’t taken seriously by many in the media and sporting work, for the rest of his life he can confidently say that he competed in a Winter Olympics – hence is a member of quite an exclusive club.
The sting in the tail
Unfortunately there is one. As Wikipedia mentions:
“Following the widespread attention that Edwards received in Calgary shortly after the Olympics finished, the entry requirements were strengthened in order to make it nearly impossible for anyone to follow his example: the International Olympic Committee (IOC) instituted what became known as the Eddie the Eagle Rule, which requires Olympic hopefuls to compete in international events and be placed in the top 30% or the top 50 competitors, whichever is fewer”.
It’s a shame on two counts, one that Edwards undoubtedly didn’t set out to close the door for other like-minded individuals and two, it cuts across the Olympic Spirit the statement of which variously mentions fair play, tolerance and encouraging youth (keeping the underdog down is hardly encouraging especially with the focus we rightly have on diversity and inclusion these days). However they must have had their reasons for this…
What can we take from this?
Helplessness is often learned. We stop doing ‘stuff’ not because we won’t take pleasure from it, or aren’t capable – often its because we tell ourselves we are not good enough or because of other people’s views and opinions that we accept without challenge.
If this is you what are you going to do about it? If you followed the Tour de France this year, the last day of the race provides a further example of this. 21 year old Tadej Pogača won the race, beating his Slovenian countryman Primoz Roglic into second place. Roglic had held the yellow jersey for 12 days before the final time trail. Most commentators were fully expecting him to do well in this last stage and win the Tour. However no one told Pogača who proceeded to change history and become the second youngest winner since 1944.
Edwards was the same. He ignored being told he couldn’t and achieved his dream – even if he was never a serious medal contender. As a consequence, he will forever be that crazy British guy who wouldn’t take no for a answer. He was memorably mentioned by Frank King the President of the Organizing Committee, who said the following whilst looking at the competitors:
Perhaps if you aren’t achieving what you want out of life, its time to start choosing to do the same?
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