First and Last Give a Big Lift to Ski Jumping : Nykanen Makes History; Edwards Makes Friends Again

Times Assistant Sports Editor

The Matti and Eddy Show played to the largest crowd of the XV Winter Games Tuesday, following the script to perfection.

It was a dramatic comedy in two acts, with a story line based on the premise that the last shall not be first--except maybe in the hearts of his adopted countrymen.

The drama was supplied by Finland's Matti Nykanen, who became the first ski jumper in Olympic history to win gold medals in both the 70- and 90-meter events.

The comedy came from Michael (Eddy) Edwards, who set a British record on the first of his two flights off the 90-meter jump at Canada Olympic Park.

Enjoying both the highs and lows of the afternoon were an estimated 80,000 fans, who could safely divide their loyalties between the incredible Finn and the indomitable Briton.

They cheered in appreciation as Nykanen leaped 118.5 and 107 meters (about 390 and 352 feet) and compiled a total of 224 points. And they fervently chanted, "Ed-dy, Ed-dy," as Edwards, the first British ski jumper to compete in the Winter Olympics, set his record of 71 meters (about 233 feet) on his first attempt, en route to finishing 55th with 57.5 points.

There were 58 jumpers entered in the 90-meter event, but three didn't start. So, that's right, Eddy was last.

Again.

In a kind of dress rehearsal for The Matti and Eddy Show on the second day of the Games, Nykanen won the 70-meter jump, and "Eddy the Eagle" became an instant cult figure by finishing 58th and, of course, last.

Overnight, Eddy, 24, a plasterer from Cheltenham, England, found himself the toast of Calgary, surrounded by showgirls, his bespectacled likeness on hastily screened T-shirts, the whole bit.

When high winds forced postponement of the 90-meter jump for three days, there was talk that Edwards might be barred for safety reasons, if the wind was still a factor when the competition was finally held.

Tuesday, the wind was not a factor, either for Edwards or Nykanen.

The Finn, who won an Olympic gold medal in the 90-meter and a silver in the 70-meter at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984, led runner-up Erik Johnsen of Norway by 7.1 points (120.8 to 113.7) after the first jump. Pavel Ploc, the 70-meter silver medalist here, was in third place.

Then, while Nykanen was increasing his margin to 16.1 points over Johnsen (224 to 207.9), Matjas Debelak of Yugoslavia uncorked the best leap of the second round, soaring 108 meters (about 355 feet), to take the bronze with 207.7 points.

Nykanen, 24, took his extraordinary accomplishment in customary laconic stride, saying, "I had a good feeling on my first jump today, and I am very happy to be able to win a second gold medal."

The boyish-looking jumper has had more than his share of problems in the past, including periodic alcoholic binges, a pair of suspensions from the Finnish team, run-ins with fellow competitors, and a two-month suspended sentence for stealing cigarettes and beer in the summer of 1986.

His marriage 14 months ago failed to calm him down significantly, but when his wife, Tiina, gave birth to a son, Sami, last October, Nykanen apparently started to grow up.

After his dual gold-medal performances, there are few who would dispute the claim that he is the greatest ski jumper of all time.

And how about Edwards, indisputably the greatest British ski jumper of all time?

After his first jump, which shattered the British mark by three meters, he said, "That was terrific, but I'm going to push even harder on the next one. I'm shooting for 80 meters."

The second time around, the jumpers started in inverse order to their standings, meaning Eddy was first.

As the crowd's chant started to build, the public-address announcer said with a slight laugh, "OK, you'll have your Eddy in just a moment."

At the top of the jump, Eddy adjusted his goggles, looked over his shoulder and joked with one of the officials, briefly savored the moment, then took off down the ramp and into space . . . for a distance of 67.5 meters (about 222 feet).

But again, Eddy thrust his arms into the air, obviously relieved that the Eagle had landed safely for a second time, and let his "momentum" carry him up the run-out slope. Unfortunately, his jump didn't provide quite enough thrust, and he had to sidestep up the last few feet.

Asked to describe his feelings, Eddy said, "It's great, just great. They moved the start down three gates on the second jump, and that cut down my speed.

"The crowd's response has been fantastic, and I love it here. But now I'm going to go home for a week and then on to Scandinavia. We still have four more World Cup meets this winter."

Asked if he intends to jump in the 1992 Winter Olympics at Albertville, France, he said, "Yes, definitely. And in 1994, too (when the new Olympic schedule goes into effect.)"

Told that someone estimated he could realize more than $250,000 from his new notoriety, Eddy said, "That's great, but it's not my first priority. I just want to continue to improve my jumping. After all, I've only been doing it for four years."

And how do the other jumpers feel about him?

"They think it's great. Ski jumping is getting more publicity over here than it's ever gotten before," and with that, the Eagle flew off to another round of interviews and adulation from his devoted fans.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°