Eddie the Eagle


            My eight-year-old grandson loves playing whiffle ball in the back yard, and pretending he's a major league ballplayer, like so many eight-year-olds in the back yard before him.  It will never happen.  He just doesn't have the talent, though he has enough heart to slide happily around the bases (his mother loves the grass stains), and enough passion to call out the names of every hitter, in order, on his favorite team, and bat right or left-handed, as they would.  He even sings their walk-up music when he's coming up to the plate.

            Michael “Eddie” Edwards also played in his back yard as a boy, but since there was something wrong with his legs, he kept timing himself for how long he could hold his head below water in the little kid's wading pool, and later, in the family bathtub.  That was the only competition he could think of, but he happily played, anyway, and gleefully reported to his doting mother if he broke a new record. Eddie didn't seem to have too many other kids to play with---no siblings---and seemed like one of those nerdy loners with oversize glasses and underdevelolped social skills.  When he finally got the leg braces off as a young teenager, he concentrated on skiing, because he wanted to make the Olympic skiing team for Great Britain.

            It wasn't going to happen for him either, of course, but Eddie (Taron Egerton) never gave up. He did, in fact, teach himself to ski, and he did, in fact, try out for the downhill, but he was never a great athlete, and when the Olympic coaches told him to give it up, he was finally resigned to go join his father's business as a plasterer, and give up on his Olympic dreams.

            But then he found out that his country didn't have a ski jumper on their team, and he got it in his head that he could be that guy.  He found out that the European training site was in Germany, and so he requisitioned his father's van (promising he'd bring it back) and deposited himself at the training site, ready to go out and try jumping himself.

            It was a disaster, of course.  He fell at forty meters, the “kiddie slope”, and he kept falling.  Undeterred, he asked around, with some of the coaches and their proteges, but everybody treated him with contempt.  He slept the first night in the cupboard of a local restaurant, where the proprieter, seeing him camped out there, took pity on him, and allowed him to sleep there at nights if he would do some cleaning during the day.  No problem. 

            One of the locals who made fun of Eddie's pitiful attempts was Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), the operator of the snow-plow equipment, who, it turns out, used to be a jumper himself, until his lack of self-discipline curtailed his career.  He still drinks too much and too often.  But somehow he forms a bond with Eddie, and though at first refuses to agree to be his coach, still, he gives him some pointers that would maybe allow Eddie to make a jump without killing himself.  And maybe one day he would learn to land properly.

            Eddie did learn, at 40 meters, but the problem was that he had to qualify at 75 meters, definitely a different qualitative level.  Yet Eddie was still fearless and undaunted, despite his many crashes, and eventually he and Bronson hit the European circuit that year so Eddie could qualify---he had to make over 60 meters on his leap or else the British Olympic Association wouldn't take him.  Somehow he did.  Arriving at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Eddie was almost as big a hit as the Jamaican bobsled team, because everybody knew he was just some bloke who started training out of his car, just because he had a dream, and was not only passionate and fearless, his boundless enthusiasm was contagious.

Eddie even attemped the formidable 90 meter jump, and actually managed to land on his feet on his first try, much to the delight of the crowd, and the surprise of anybody associated with ski-jumping.

            It's a great underdog tale, almost too fantastic to be believed, and yet it actually happened.  Nerd Dreamers of the world, unite!


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What dream did you have as a kid?  When did you have to give up on it?

2)                  Who is your favorite Olympic hero?

3)                  If the moral to this story is “Never Give Up,” how would you apply that to your life?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association