Elite performers in the realms of snow sports will assemble in Beijing for the Winter Olympics on February 4, but it is highly unlikely that any of them will capture the public’s hearts in the same manner as a plasterer from Cheltenham did 34 years earlier.
The Olympics crown the greatest of the great as years and years of training end in either joy or despair, but there is another group who should not be forgotten – those who are just glad to be there.
And no one epitomised that spirit more that Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards did in Calgary, Canada in 1988.
The Start of the Dream
Michael Edwards – Eddie was a nickname he earned at school due to his surname – first got the skiing bug in the same manner as many others, on a school trip, and despite doing his best to earn his way as a downhill skier, he never managed to reach the desired heights.
That prompted him to decide upon the idea of taking up ski jumping to help him realise his Olympic ambitions.
After all, there weren’t any other British jumpers out there, so he shouldn’t have many problems gaining national recognition.
There were a few problems though. Firstly, he was about 20lbs heavier than other competitors and that plainly had an effect on his aerodynamics.
And then there was the issue that Edwards was terribly near-sighted so was required to wear thick glasses beneath his goggles.
However, he did enough to qualify for the World Championships in 1987 after self-financing all of his training and his 55th-place finish was enough to get him on the plane to Canada.
Calgary and the World Stage
Edwards competed in the normal (70m) and large (90m) events and to no one’s surprise came last, a considerable distance away from his fellow competitors and Finland’s Matti Nykanen.
But that didn’t matter. Edwards became the embodiment of the Olympic ideal that it is not about winning, but taking part.
Spectators and TV viewers took him to their hearts and his contribution was mentioned during speeches in the closing ceremony.
It soon became clear his life would never be the same again.
Fame and Reality TV
Upon his return and two years before Paul Gascoigne’s tears in Turin, Edwards was the most famous sportsman in the country.
However, for all the publicity his exploits brought to the sport, regulations were changed after Calgary that stated only the world’s top 50 would be able to qualify for the Olympics and, despite his best efforts, Edwards was unable to do so for the following Games in Albertville, Lillehammer and Nagano.
But the Eagle was able to spread his wings. He did all sorts.
He ski-jumped over buses to earn money for sports relief, had a record that reached number two in the Finnish charts and won the celebrity diving show Splash under the direction of another Olympian Tom Daley in 2013.
You might have spotted him on the Masked Singer recently too, and that says something about the effect he had on the sporting public all those years ago.
And in 2016, they made a film of his life story, Eddie The Eagle, starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star Dexter Fletcher.
There seems little chance that any of the competitors in February’s Games in China will be able to say that in years to come.
*All odds correct at time of writing.