VANCOUVER — From Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsled team to a Mexican cross-country skier who moved so slowly that race officials sent out a search party to find him, the last Winter Olympics held on Canadian soil provided no shortage of lovable losers to cheer for.
And for many, the lasting images of the 1988 Calgary Games aren’t those of Canadian silver medallist Elizabeth Manley or three-time Finnish ski-jump champion Matti Nykkanen, but of the underdogs who made it all the way to the Olympics despite their seeming absence of the athletic ability.
But while such average joe performances tend to be crowd-pleasers, next month’s Vancouver-Whistler Winter Games will feature little of the like, says an Olympic historian.
“I think the IOC took the position that it takes away from the real athletes, the ones who succeed,” said David Wallechinsky, co-author of The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics: The Vancouver 2010 Winter Edition.
After the 1988 Games, the International Olympic Committee instituted what’s popularly known as the “Eddie the Eagle rule.”
The rule requires athletes who want to compete in the Games to place among the top 50 competitors in international events or in the top 30 per cent.
The Eagle, whose real name is Michael Edwards, became a folk hero during the Calgary Games for his infectious smile and personality, despite the fact that he finished far behind even his closest ski jump competitor.
Edwards, who had been jumping for just two years when he became the first British man to compete in the sport at the Games, lamented the tightened restrictions during an interview with The Canadian Press late last year.
“It was a bit ironic — I became so popular in Calgary because I was exemplifying that Olympic spirit and then I got banned because of it,” he said.