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Monday, March 21, 2016

Flying High With Eddie The Eagle: Part 3

The recent movie "Eddie The Eagle" depicted the real-life story of Olympic ski jumper Michael Edwards. In the movie, Eddie's efforts were partly inspired by those of fellow competitor Matti Nykanen. Also known as The Flying Finn, Matti was a genuine skiing legend. He won titles in all major world categories for Ski Jumping, and went on to win three gold medals at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada, where Eddie competed against him.

In the film, Eddie decides to compete in the ninety-meter event, despite never having attempted jumping that high before. When his name is called, he rides up in an elevator with Matti Nykanen. Eddie congratulates him on winning his gold medals. Matti shrugs. He tells Eddie that those are what the other athletes care about. For him, it's all about doing his best. If he lost the event and took home no medals, but felt he had achieved his best, that was what mattered most to him. He also admits that he's glimpsed that same spirit in Eddie, which has made him reassess his "amateur" competitor.

One of the recurring themes of the movie is this: Who deserves to compete in the Olympics? Should it be open to everyone who can qualify for events, or only those who have worked their way properly through the system? For everyone on the British Olympic team, and particularly for Dustin Target (played by Tim McInnery of "The Black Adder" fame), Eddie doesn't deserve to be there. He's just not good enough. They feel this way despite the fact that Britain has no official Ski Jumping competitors on their team, and continue to feel this way after he sets new Ski Jumping Records for England in the 1988 Winter Olympics. To them, Eddie is nothing more than a sideshow. A distraction from the main event.

After winning every major event in professional ski jumping, Matti Nykanen channeled his fame into a singing career, and hosted an internet cooking show. Yet economic hardships forced him to perform as a stripper, and been married and divorced three times. Marital relations with his fourth wife grew so tumultuous that he was charged with assault numerous times, and sent to jail once for grievous bodily harm.

Oh, and he was also spent another stint in jail for stabbing a man.

Michael Edwards' post Olympic career has seen its ups and downs. He suffered similar financial challenges to Nykanen, but worked through them as a TV and radio host, motivational speaker, and author. It'd be interesting to research all the athletes who "properly" competed for England in the 1988 Winter Olympics. I wonder if any of them inspired filmmakers to tell their stories. I wonder how their lives, after the Olympics, inspired the youth in their countries, and whether they did so in positive or negative ways. They, after all, were the professionals, the people who "deserved" to compete in the Olympics.

Next to them, Eddie The Eagle was just a rank amateur, a sideshow, a distraction. Right?

Dragon Dave

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