The Sochi Network

Eddie ‘The Eagle’: I don’t know if I’d be a hero to Britain today

Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards became a British hero in an era where winning wasn’t everything.

That’s not to say that losing is particularly great – it’s almost natural to want to succeed, to reach goals, to out-perform your peers – but in Calgary 1988, Eddie proved that you can indeed find victory in defeat.

Edwards was the first British representative in Olympic ski jumping back in ’88 but would go on to finish last in both the 70m and 90m events.

While the majority of British sports currently possess an ethos which demands results over progress and development, and such a result as Eddie’s in 2014 would likely result in the firing of coaches and nationwide slashing of funding, ‘The Eagle’ was rightly lauded as a hero for doing something no other Brit had done.

[VIDEO: THE AMAZING STORY OF EDDIE THE EAGLE]

After all, everyone has to start somewhere. And to that bold, creative minority of the human race, blazing such a unique trail means a lot more in life than the admitted appeal of the podium.

Edwards, now one of the last bastions of when Britain as a sporting nation welcomed honest endeavour and progress as an island rather than engaging in petty vicarious bragging rights and pointless debates over whether Andy Murray is ‘Scottish’ or ‘British’, now dedicates his life to fundraising and promotional appearances.

Nonetheless, the 50-year-old was happy to take a few minutes out of his hectic schedule to chat to Eurosport-Yahoo! about the Sochi Games, the perils of the social media era, and sliding down supermarket aisles for charity.

Seeing various sports stars viciously berated by members of the public online when they, or their team, aren’t top of the proverbial class, saddens Edwards, though he does admit he continues to see the good that has also come from the evolution of how we watch and react to sport.

“For me, obviously, Calgary was a unique experience – one of a kind,” Edwards explained.

“It’s hard for me to compare that Games and what I experienced to any other, let alone in the social media era.

“But in modern times, it certainly is a fascinating environment from the outside.

"I'm honestly not sure if, in 2014, people would remember what I did so fondly unless I had won a medal."

Having dabbled with the likes of Twitter in the past himself, Edwards has seen both the beautiful and the ugly side of what has revolutionised sport - and just about everything else - with what is now known as the 'second screen experience'.

“Whether social media and the access people now enjoy is a good or a bad thing, I’m not actually sure," he said.

“It obviously can be quite bad at times, when you see people taking to Twitter and other platforms purely to abuse athletes, but then so much good comes from social media, too.

“News of great achievements spreads so much faster thanks to the internet, and some people who have become heroes in the modern day may not have received that exposure back in the 1980s.

“Social media really is a double-edged sword, I guess.”

[EUROSPORT EXPERT PAUL PARKER ON "IDIOT" TWITTER TROLLS]

Though his active days are long in the past, Edwards does recall occasions where he has had to deal with being singled out for unnecessary attacks.

“Personally, I have had no problems ignoring trolls when I’ve encountered them,” Eddie calmly noted. “They are very sad people with nothing better to do with their time.

“On the flip side, it’s a valuable lesson for those thrust into the public eye. If you have a thick skin or can develop a thick skin to that sort of abuse, great.

“But if you take it all quite badly and are very sensitive to one person’s opinion, perhaps you’re in the wrong game.

One regret of Edwards’ so far this year, however, is that his fundraising efforts have made it difficult for him to fully pay attention to the action unfolding in Sochi.

“Unfortunately I’ve been able to catch very little of the Olympics live on television so far,” he said.

“I’ve been so busy with PR and promotional work that I’ve had to settle for little bits and pieces now and then, and catching up with the results after they have happened.

“I’ve been working on behalf of a number of organisations. I’ve fundraised for Sport Relief for about 10 years now, and I’ve done everything from fun runs to sliding across supermarkets for charity!

“It really does feel like the life of Riley – to be keeping active while having fun at the same time and all the while raising money for such great causes is living the dream.”

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe

+++

If you’ve been inspired by the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics then sign up for your own challenge at the Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Games, 21st-23rd March.

You can run, swim or cycle different distances and raise money to help transform lives in the UK and around the world by entering at www.sportrelief.com