Winter Olympics: A Briton who can actually ski jump

Glynn Pedersen hopes to make his British parents proud by burying the memory of hapless Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards at the Winter Olympics
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The Independent Online

Britain's ski jumping tradition can be summed up in two words: plucky last. Or two other words: pebble specs. Or two other words: Cheltenham plasterer.

That tradition, in short, rests entirely upon the quasi-comic figure of Eddie Edwards, who – operating under the ironic soubriquet of Eddie the Eagle – turned total failure into glorious triumph at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

But a new word is threatening to force its way into the lexicon of British ski jumping – success. And although the man who is promising to bring about this change was born in Canada, he has British blood coursing through his veins and a rising ambition to represent the country of his forbears at the Winter Olympics just over two months away.

The next nine weeks will determine whether Glynn Pedersen, a 20-year-old from the heart of Canadian skiing country, will be able to take his place in Britain's team at Salt Lake City. During that time the young man from Thunder Bay will compete on the European circuit, seeking to fulfil the stringent qualification rules now employed by the British Olympic Association. To book his place for Salt Lake City, he needs to be in the top 50 per cent of the world's performers.

If Pedersen feels the BOA criteria are harsh, he can direct much of the blame towards Edwards. His achievement in becoming the talk of Calgary town in 1988 after finishing 58th and plumb last angered officials who believed he was distracting attention from those who better deserved it. Such as the gold medallists.

Those guidelines have prevented Edwards ever returning to the Olympic event which made his name. But Pedersen, whose British record of 85 metres off the 90-metres is 14 metres further than Edwards managed in 1988, has a realistic chance of fulfilling them.

To that end, Pedersen will arrive in Finland today to start a sequence of events that will lead up to his Olympic selection deadline of January 15, starting with a Continental Cup outing in Kuusamo on Saturday, closely followed by his season's debut in the World Cup at Kuipio on 23 and 24 November.

He has one very big advantage over Edwards. While the pebble-specs one had only two years experience of ski jumping before Calgary, having taken it up at the age of 22, Pedersen has been taking part in the event for half his life.

He got his first glimpse of the sport as a 10-year-old when a family friend took him out on the 10-minute drive to the huge hills of Thunder Bay, built in the run-up to the 1988 Winter Games.

The effect, as Pedersen recalls, was dramatic. ''I took one look at all these guys floating down the hill, and I thought: 'That's amazing. I want to try that out'. The only thing that was scary was the way they leaned over their skis as they came down. I thought they were all going to fall head over heels, but I soon realised how the air holds you up...''

That discovery did not take long as the young Pedersen availed himself of his local facilities and progressed methodically to higher and higher hills until in 1996, at the age of 16, he was mixing with the best Canada had to offer.

Jeremy Baig, Pedersen's main coach, recalls the newcomer well. At that time Baig was at the height of a career which brought him five national titles, but it was soon clear to him that Pedersen was something special.

''I saw his potential right away,'' recalls Baig, now a grand old man of the event at 26. ''We were rivals on the hill. He started beating all the top guys in our team, and that year he won the official training competition.''

Unlike Britain, Canada has a strong tradition in the event – in the early 1980s they had two of the best jumpers in the world in Horst Bulau, who won 13 World Cup events, and Steve Collins, who was junior world champion. Pedersen could easily have chosen to follow in that tradition. But he chose not to. ''Even when he was 15 his dream was to compete at the Olympic Games for Britain,'' Baig recalls. ''He wanted to show that people with British blood in their veins can fly off those hills.''

In order to qualify for Britain, Pedersen – whose mother, Mary, was born in Stirling and whose father, Glynn Snr, was born in Hebden Bridge – had to take a year out of the sport. But his determination never wavered.

''I'm really excited about the idea of competing for Britain and I believe I can do it. I know I was born in Canada but I've got British blood in me and all my other family are still living over there,'' he said.

Off the slopes Pedersen, who has grown up with three elder sisters to guide his course in life, is a quiet and relaxed character. ''He's pretty calm,'' says Baig with a chuckle. ''He was the real kid of the family, but he's very good to coach because he does what I ask him to do and he isn't scared to try out new things.''

Pedersen's coach believes his charge has the all the mental resources he needs to make the grade. ''Even to get to the Olympics you need to be really good,'' he said. ''But I know that if Glenn is skiing at his best he can make Salt Lake next year. And I believe he can go on to become one of the best in the world. Right now it's just a matter of him getting experience. He's got to learn to cope with the anxieties and difficulties of competition on the main circuit.''

The other difficulty which Pedersen faces is the unique one of following in the tracks of a man who – for whatever reason – transcended his sport.

''In a way, you can't beat Eddie the Eagle,'' Baig admits. ''But whatever people say about him, it took a lot of courage for that guy to go out and jump without the background of experience of having started at 10 years of age, as most of his competitors had.

''I don't think Glenn's interest is in following Eddie. He's just thinking about what he has to do now to reach the Olympics.''

Pedersen is also careful to give Edwards the benefit of praise. ''I know about what he did,'' he said. ''He started at an older age, and it took a lot of guts for him to get up there.

''I met him once in Colorado soon after I'd started competitive jumping. Everybody was going: 'Hey, it's Eddie the Eagle!' I had a few words with him – he was a really nice guy.''

For Pedersen, however, it is a case of no more Mr Nice Guy. He has to put the inevitable comparisons aside as the concentrates on his immediate task. Without a sponsor, he will be funding his own progress around Europe on a shoestring budget which will entail staying with friends or in youth hostels.

''We are doing only the competitions which are absolutely necessary for Glynn to qualify for the Olympics – we can't do any more,'' Baig said.

Reflecting on his career, Edwards once remarked: ''The real failures are the ones who don't get off their backsides. Anyone who has a go is a success.'' By that criterion, Pedersen is already a success himself. But he is operating to a different set of rules...

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