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Eddie the Eagle Edwards soaring again and aiming for Nagano

January 29, 1997

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) _ Long after the other jumpers had finished for the day, Eddie Edwards took the elevator back to the top of the hill. Not quitting time yet. The Eagle had to soar some more.

Yes, the fall guy of the 1988 Winter Olympics _ the man who perfected the art of ``ski dropping″ at Calgary, finishing last on the hill and first in the public embrace _ is back. And he’s aiming for Nagano.

``It’s the most important thing in my life at the moment,″ said the fast-talking self-promoter, who learned how to jump in Lake Placid a decade ago with a pair of borrowed, oversized boots that required five pairs of socks and a helmet tied to his chin with a piece of string. ``It’s all I ever think about, talk about, dream about.″

Eddie the Eagle is dead serious, you know. And he’s a changed man _ sort of. Oh, he’s still blind as a bat and does wacky things to make a buck, such as jumping over buses and automobiles (he may try to break his own world record and jump 11 Chevrolets at nearby Whiteface Mountain sometime before the end of winter).

But Edwards has a sponsor now _ Eagle Airlines of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel _ that pays his expenses. Which means he no longer has to sleep in mental hospitals or cowsheds, doesn’t look for his next meal in a trash bin, and has more time to concentrate on technique.

``It’s nice now because I don’t have to worry about where my next dollar is coming from,″ said Edwards, who lost $750,000 in 1991 because of mismanagement of a trust fund and got back about half of that in a settlement. ``I can concentrate on my ski jumping and my fitness. I’m much more aware of what I’m doing and what I need to do.″

He’s trimmer, too, thanks to a new profile. Last year his jaw was broken in two places _ by his dentist, not a fall _ and re-aligned. His teeth were wearing down too much, probably from the chattering during all those terrifying leaps.

``I had my jaw wired together for six weeks, so I couldn’t eat, and I lost about 25 pounds and I’ve not put the weight back on,″ said Edwards, who lives in Lake Placid most of the time now. ``So I’m much slimmer than I used to be, and much better looking.″

And apparently much less fearful.

``Sometimes I’m coming down and I feel I want to close my eyes until it’s all over,″ said Edwards, who started skiing when he was 13. ``But most of the time it’s brilliant. Nowadays, I’m not as frightened as I used to be. The height and the speed, it just doesn’t bother me.″

Despite his lack of success _ Edwards usually finishes near the bottom of the competition _ and the opposition he’s encountered, motivation has never been a problem. It is not now, even at age 33.

``They have to drag me away from the hill,″ said Edwards, who again appears to be Britain’s only Olympic ski jumping hopeful. The craze he created after Calgary is over _ ``Simon the Seagull″ and his ilk quickly realized that ski jumping is not for the faint of heart.

Inspiration also comes from the naysayers.

``I just want to prove everybody wrong,″ said Edwards, who also is training to get his bobsled driver’s license. ``The people who think I shouldn’t be in the Olympics, who think I’m not a very good jumper, that sort of thing.

``Eddie the Eagle wasn’t a jerk at the Olympics. I was dead serious when I went to the Calgary Olympics, and I performed the best I could. I just want to show people that Eddie the Eagle and Great Britain can have a good ski jumper and perform reasonably well at an Olympic level.″

If anyone questions the man’s courage, one look through his thick, turquoise, wire-rimmed glasses should put any doubts to rest.

``My glasses steam up a lot,″ he said. ``When I’m sitting on the bar, the last thing I do before I leave the bar and come down the jump is bring my goggles down over my glasses. The moment I do that my glasses start to steam up. As I come down the air flows through my goggles and it usually clears my glasses.″

Usually?

``Probably two or three jumps in every 10 don’t clear and as I take off my glasses are all steamed up, I can’t see a thing,″ said Edwards, who has been doing motivational talks for the past five years. ``I’ve got to just literally feel my way down the hill. That can be pretty scary, but I’ve only had two falls this year. No breaks, just the odd bruise.″

The biggest bruises now seem to come from fellow jumpers.

``I get a sense that they just sort of put up with me,″ Edwards said. ``But it doesn’t bother me. It’s their problem. I’m hoping that will change over the next couple of years and I do become a very, very good ski jumper. It’s really coming together. I’ve jumped much better consistently this year than ever before.″

That would be in the range of 275-282 feet, better than his best at Calgary (236 feet, 3 inches) but far below his best jump ever _ 364-6 at Steamboat Springs, Colo. _ and not up to the standards of the International Ski Federation. To qualify for the Winter Olympics, FIS instituted rules after Calgary that, barring a dramatic improvement in Eddie the Eagle’s results, likely will keep him from competing in the Winter Games next year.

Even the man who taught Edwards to jump doubts his chances, but still sees a glimmer of hope.

``When he sets his heart up and goes to do something,″ said 81-year-old John Viscome, who competed twice in the nationals in the early 1950s. ``He’ll do it.″

End Adv Weekend Editions Feb 1-2

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