Olympic Urban Legends Revealed #1

This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to the Olympics and whether they are true or false.

Let’s begin!

OLYMPIC LEGEND: The International Olympics Committee created a new rule just to make a certain participant ineligible for future Olympics.

STATUS: Basically True

Eddie Edwards burst onto the international scene when he competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary as the lone British representative in the ski jumping competition.

A plasterer by trade, Edwards had a number of obstacles to overcome in his attempt for Olympic Gold.

For one, he was a lot heavier than the other competitors. For two, he needed to wear glasses at all times, and as a result, they would often fog up in the cold. For three, since he was entirely self-financed, his training and equipment lagged behind all the other ski jumpers.

Therefore, Edwards, who was nicknamed “Eddie the Eagle,” really did not have much of a chance at actually winning a medal, and in fact, he came in dead last in both of the ski jumping competitions he entered.

However, he also ended up capturing the imaginations of the international community – this comical looking fellow (some called him “Mr. Magoo because of his glasses) who didn’t mind the odds, he just wanted to compete. In many ways, people looked to him as a throwback to the original days of the Olympics, when athletes did not devote their entire lives to to games, but when a plasterer from Great Britain could take time off and compete for an Olympic Gold Medal every four years.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), made reference to Eddie in his closing statements about the ceremony, which is extremely rare, as the president almost never spotlights particular athletes (as you could only imagine the hard feelings that might cause in some cases). He said:

[At Calgary] people set new goals, created new world records, and some even flew like an eagle.

The crowd, naturally, went wild at the comment.

While the public as a whole were fans of Eddie (he got a book deal after the Games ended, and there was even a hit song in Finland about him!), the IOC and especially the ski-jumping community, were less enthused.

So the IOC instituted what is now known as the Eddie the Eagle Rule. All competitors for the Olympics must finish in the top half of an international competition if they want to compete in the Olympics.

And thus, Eddie the Eagle’s career as an Olympic ski jumper drew to a close (although he DID try to qualify – he just couldn’t make it).

While he was a bit goofy, it’s still a bit sad that the Olympics feel that there is no place for people like Eddie at the Games.

OLYMPIC LEGEND: The Jamaican bobsled team carried their sled to the finish line after a crash.

STATUS: False

The 1993 film, Cool Runnings, brought a lot of attention to the bobsled team from the tiny island nation of Jamaica.

However much attention and popularity it might have brought the team, it also brought with it a lot of inaccuracies surrounding the Jamaican bobsled team and what happened to them during the 1988 Winter Olympics (huh, that’s funny – two 1988 Winter Olympics legends in the same piece – totally not on purpose, too!).

First off, a minor misconception that the film perpetuates is that the international bobsled community had a problem with the Jamaican team at the 1988 Winter Olympics (sort of like how the ski jumping community DID have a problem with Eddie Edwards).

While it is true that the Fédération International de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) did greet them a bit coldly when they first announced the idea of competing in 1987, by the actual Winter Olympics themselves, the response was much warmer. You could argue that it is perhaps because there was a bit of a big media push, so that they were treated as a bit of a novelty and that the good will extended towards them might be considered a tad disingenuous. But whatever the motivation, the team was welcomed to the community with open arms at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Other countries helped with their training and their equipment (most notably the United States and Austria).

Secondly, the film showed the team getting a lot father than they did in actuality. In the film, they make it all the way to the finals, challenging a world record, even! In reality, while they did improve throughout the games and did impress many folks with their fast starts (which were balanced out by their inexperience in actually driving the sled once they got started), they were not really in any medal contention.

And perhaps the most notable scene in the movie was not true to life, which is a shame, because the real life event was pretty darn notable itself!

In the film, the team crashed during the finals and then picked up their sled and carried it across the finish line.

In reality, the team crashed during one of their four runs (thus disqualifying them) and then walked alongside the sled as it was pushed to the finish line. It was still a pretty cool moment, just not the drama shown in the film.

Here’s a YouTube clip of the crash…

Thanks to twallyg for the clip!

The Jamaican bobsled team competed at the next two Winter Olympics, with some success (no medals, though), but failed to qualify for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

They are trying for 2010, though!!

OLYMPIC LEGEND: An Olympic rower paused during a race to let a family of ducks pass in front of his scull.

STATUS: True

For such a true gentleman, it’s a shame that Henry “Bobby” Pearce had to wait as long as he did to be let into a Gentleman’s Club.

The Australian sculler (a scull is a boat used in competitive rowing) was the lone representative for Australia when he competed in single sculling at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Pearce easily advanced in the first two rounds of competition before an odd occurrence in the quarterfinals allowed Pearce to show what a nice guy he was.

While competing against a French opponent, a family of ducks passed in front of Pearce in the middle of his lane!!!

Pearce actually just sat there and LET the ducks pass!!!

Once they passed him completely, he took off and still easily won his race.

He went on to win the Gold Medal in the competition.

This was a gentlemanly act by Pearce, which made the events leading up to the 1928 Olympics even more shameful.

To prepare for the 1928 Olympics, Pearce wished to compete in the famous Diamond Challenge Sculls amateur rowing competition (which has been competed yearly since 1844).

However, Pearce was barred from competing since he was a carpenter, and the rules said that competitors are barred “Who is or has been by trade or employment for wages a mechanic, artisan or labourer.”

Ridiculous, right?

After a stretch of bad luck during the Great Depression, Pearce’s luck turned when he found himself a patron, whisky magnate Lord Dewar, who gave him a job as a salesman. Now qualified for entry (as he wasn’t a lowly labourer anymore), Pearce competed in, and won, the 1931 Diamond Challenge Sculls.

In 1937, the competition dropped the ridiculous mechanics/artisan/labourer ban.

Pearce then went to Los Angeles and won the Gold Medal in the 1932 Olympics, becoming the first single sculler to win back-to-back Gold Medals.

Pearce became a professional sculler for the rest of the 1930s, and actually was a professional wrestler in Canada for a time in the late 1930s (Pearce had moved to Canada and become a Canadian citizen during the 1930s)!

During World War II, he was in the Canadian Army, where he would remain until he retired in 1956 (he died in 1976).

He was a lieutenant commander when he retired, so he was an officer AND a gentleman!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

6 Responses to “Olympic Urban Legends Revealed #1”

  1. The “World Record” thing in Cool Runnings always annoyed me, since Bobsled isn’t run on a consistent course. Calgary’s course was different than Sarajevo’s course, which was different than Albertville’s course. You could get the COURSE record, but there’s no such thing as a world record.

    The Jamaicans got plenty of play here in Toronto back in the day, probably because there’s an enormous Carribean community in the city.

  2. If the original rule banning Pearce from competition banned “who is or has beeni by trade or employment for wages et cetera et cetera”, shouldn’t it have not mattered that he became a salesman by the 1931 Diamond Challenge? He still had been supported as a carpenter. Seems like maybe it was less that he was a salesman and more that Lord Dewar told the board of governors that Pearce was competing and they better smile about it.

    Enjoyable work as always.

  3. Oops. Screwed up my italics there.

  4. I believe the “has been” portion of the rule was to rule out the “I just quit my job so I am not a mechanic right now” technicality.

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