WHERE EAGLE DAREDOne man’s quest to follow in the flight trajectory of Britain’s greatest ski-jumping legend. Part two – Getting ready for the jump
The next morning I awaken above the clouds. From my bedroom window, Oslo, far below, is obscured by a blanket of white stratus. My hotel is 350m above sea level. Built in the dragestil architecture of ancient Viking longboats, it opened in 1894 as a sanatorium. The significance is not lost on me – when Edwards heard that he’d qualified for the Olympics he was in Finland, staying in the cheapest place he could find: a mental hospital. What I’m about to do could be considered insanity. Today is the day of my big jump.
At the changing room I meet my fellow trainees, among them a parkour expert, a personal trainer, a mixed martial artist and an ex-Olympic sprinter. It’s safe to say I’m not in the upper tier of this group for core strength and balance. I’m also not in the upper tier for being kitted out – all the ski suits my size have been taken. Squeezing into one a size too small, I’m reminded of a video I once saw of a python struggling to consume an alligator. My helmet is loose enough to fit another helmet inside, and my ski boots would be snug if I’d already lost my toes to frostbite.
“Ski-jumping equipment isn’t made for regular people,” my outfitter, Marius, says apologetically. “It is built to order, and ski jumpers are not as big, or have such large feet as you.” Marius is wiry. I imagine his feet are quite dainty, too.
By the time I reach the practise slope, my fellow athletes have already mastered a half-metre-high take-off ramp built out of packed snow. There, I’m greeted by Erik Stein Johnsen. Erik won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in the same 90m ski jump that saw Eddie The Eagle place last.
“What was Eddie like?” I ask him.
“Weird,” Erik replies.
“Was he any good at ski jumping?”
“We have 200 junior girl skiers who could jump further than him.”
“Do you think he shouldn’t have been at the Olympics?”
“Well…” Erik’s impassive expression softens. “He’s brought attention to ski jumping. So there are two ways of looking at it.”
I’m unsure which way Erik looks at it, but I’m hoping he sees potential in me. I sit on a bench to attach my skis. No sooner are they on than they begin to slide inexorably down the slope. For a brief moment I’m upright, arms flailing, then I fall on my arse, but the skis keep going, dragging me with them until I come to a standstill at the bottom. Björn is there.
Jumping skis are not normal skis,” he says. “They are not meant to ski on. You are meant to be in the air.”
“How do you brake?” I ask.
“You are not meant to brake!” he says incredulously. “Stay low. You will have better balance. If you are standing like a tin soldier, you will fall like a tin soldier.”
I return to the summit and try again. This time the skis decide to go in different directions. “On the in-run there are tracks, so they won’t go like this,” says Björn. “But when you land you don’t have tracks. That is the hardest part.”
My fellow trainees, satisfied with their efforts, have begun to depart for the ski jump hill, but I still can’t even navigate the slope without falling backwards. As I exhaustedly reach the summit for the umpteenth time, Björn squints at my boots. “These are not ski jump boots,” he remarks. “These are Telemark boots. They are designed for your ankle to move, ski jump boots are not.” As I explain that there were no ski jump boots in my size, I hear a voice behind me. “We have the same size feet. You can share my boots.”
It’s the last remaining member of my group, Gunnar from Berlin. He unlaces his boots and hands them to me. Sure enough, the ankle has a rigid casing. I clip Gunnar’s skis on and take a practise run. I don’t fall. I test out the training ramp. I do fall. I try it again – I don’t fall.
As Gunnar and I stride over to the ski jump hill, I ponder the symmetry of the moment. When Edwards arrived at Calgary in 1988, his ski equipment was woefully inadequate. “I was so broke I had to tie my helmet on with a piece of string,” he once recalled. “On one jump the string snapped and my helmet carried on farther than I did.” The Italian team, taking pity, donated a helmet that actually stayed on. The Austrians gave him better skis. Without Gunnar’s generosity, I wouldn’t be doing this jump.
In the late afternoon sun, the ski jump hill stands before us. To the west, now in shade, is the 60m slope. A lesser titan than the awe-inducing Holmenkollbakken, but its daunting height still commands reverence and fear.
“You are not jumping that one,” says Calo, who has appeared beside us. “We told your organisers it was too dangerous. You would all hurt yourselves.”
“A broken neck?” I suggest.
“Dislocated shoulder, for sure,” Calo replies.
To the right of the 60m jump lies the 40m. Much less imposing, but still worthy of great respect. “You’re not jumping that one,” says Calo. “It’s still too dangerous.”
Next to the 40m is the 20m jump. It’s looks like a reasonable challenge. “You’re not jumping that one,” says Calo.
“Oh, come on!”
“At first, your organisers wanted you to do the 60m. Then they saw the injuries on your TV show The Jump and they became scared.”
Nestled beside the 20m jump, still bathed in afternoon light, is the 10m hill. Technically it’s a ski jump in much the same way Pluto is a planet. A dwarf planet.
The Red Bulletin was sent to Oslo for the cinema release of Eddie The Eagle. The film is now showing UK-wide.