Eddie The Eagle (and five other unlikely sporting heroes who deserve their own movie)
In most cases, when a sportsman or woman is described as an icon, hero, legend or any other variation on the same theme, it is usually as a result of their success in their particular field. Muhammad Ali, for example, was a three-time Heavyweight champion – a record he still holds to this day. Usain Bolt, the sprinter, has broken world records no fewer than seven times, and probably isn't finished yet. Serena Williams equalled Steffi Graf's record of 22 Grand Slam wins at Wimbledon this year, and may well beat that record before the year is out. All of them are rightly described as sporting icons, legends in their respective sports and heroes to those they have inspired to follow in their footsteps.
Sometimes though, people become icons in sport for the exact opposite of these reasons. In 1988, Jamaica famously fielded its first athletes to compete the Calgary Winter Olympics, in the bobsled event. Sadly, their sled crashed out and never officially finished the race, but it didn't matter; the Jamaican team had captured the collective imagination of not just their home nation, but the rest of the world too, eventually inspiring the (heavily fictionalised) account of their exploits in Jon Turteltaub's 1993 film Cool Runnings.
But there was another unlikely hero who emerged at the Winter Olympics that year. Born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Michael “Eddie” Edwards was a reasonably talented downhill skier who had narrowly missed out on qualification for four years earlier for the 1984 Winter Olympics held at Sarajevo, in what was then Yugoslavia. Determined not to give up, Edwards moved to Lake Placid to train and compete in the hope that the higher standard of competition there would raise his game, but as he was financing the trip himself having failed to secure funding, he was soon running out of money. Then he had an idea; instead of competing in the downhill events, Edwards switched disciplines to ski-jumping, making it easier to qualify as Britain didn't have a ski-jumping team at that time, meaning he just needed to jump a minimum distance in order to earn the right to compete.
His successful qualification made him Great Britain's first competitive ski-jumper at an Olympic event since 1929. In both the 70m and 90m events, he finished dead last, but as was the case with the Jamaican bobsled team that year, victory wasn't important. Despite his dismal results in the competition, his endeavour and will to succeed in the face of overwhelming adversity had endeared him to the British public and the press across the wider world – who gave him the somewhat sarcastic nickname “Eddie The Eagle” - turning Edwards into an unlikely sporting icon overnight.
It's this story of Edwards' determination to compete that has inspired Eddie The Eagle, a new biopic of Edwards' life directed by Dexter Fletcher. In this partly fictionalised account of Edwards mission to become an Olympian, Kingsman star Taron Egerton continues to show his enormous potential in the lead role, with Hugh Jackman taking on the role of Bronson Peary, a fictional amalgamation of the coaches who helped Edwards on his quest, presented here as a former ski-jump prodigy turned ostracised alcoholic. Alongside them is a cast that includes Tim McInnerny, Keith Allen, Jo Hartley and Mark Benton.
Fletcher's film is imbued with the same feel-good factor that made Edwards a star in the first place and although the story tales a little artistic licence with the facts, the film is brilliantly executed and much funnier than you might imagine, following Edwards' childhood ambitions in the face of a less-than-encouraging family, his battles with a reluctant Olympic committee and his attempts to raise funds from an apathetic public.
At a time when yet another scandal is engulfing the world of athletics with the Russian doping controversy, Edwards' story is an timely reminder of what the Olympics is supposed to stand for; the opportunity for amateur sportsmen and women to compete on a global playing field and give their all, no matter their background or their respective chances of winning. Edwards is the embodiement of the dusty old adage that it isn't the winning that counts, but the taking part.
You can find the trailer for Eddie The Eagle below, beneath that we've picked out five more unlikely sporting heroes that deserve to have their own stories writ large on the silver screen...
Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani
At the summer Olympics held in Sydney, Australia in 2000, the world was introduced to Eric Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who qualified for the event through a wildcard rule designed to encourage competitors from developing countries. His country had no formal training programme and his training consisted of three hours a week in a 13-metre hotel swimming pool, where he was only allowed to use the facilities between 6:00 and 7:00 am, before the pool opened to residents. He described being “scared” at the sight of the 50m Olympic pool, but in his first heat the other two competitors were both disqualified for false starts, leaving Moussambani to swim out the 100m freestyle race on his own, which he did in an extremely leisurely 1:52.72 (slower than the world record over twice that distance). To his surprise, the Australian crowed cheered him on and gave the swimmer a thunderous standing ovation when he finally touched the wall. A British journalist coined the name 'Eric the Eel' and he became an overnight sensation in his home country, where he now runs a training programme for those wishing to compete at Olympic level.
James 'Buster' Douglas
During the mid-to-late 1980s, one name alone dominated boxing's heavyweight division. Mike Tyson wasn't just the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, he was the most feared man in the ring. Nicknamed 'Iron Mike', Tyson had brutally dispatched a string of former champions with ease and by the 1990 he was still unbeaten, winning all 37 of his fights to date inside the distance and knocking people out for fun. James Douglas, by comparison, already had a handful of losses on a respectable-but-patchy career record. For their fight held at the Tokyo Dome, the bookmakers had Douglas priced at 42-1 and it's probably fair to say that not even Douglas gave Douglas a chance of winning, but in the tenth round he did the unthinkable, laying Tyson out cold on the canvas and taking the belts for himself. His reign didn't last long; he lost the titles in his first defence to Evander Holyfield, who KO'd him in the third round, but his victory over Tyson remains one of the biggest ever upsets in the sport and his story is definitely one worth telling.
Prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Australian speed-skater Steven Bradbury's best performance at the Olympic Games had been a bronze medal in the 5000 metre relay event at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. By 2002, Bradbury was in his thirties and the second oldest competitor in his field. Knowing that he wasn't going to match his younger peers in speed and energy levels, Bradbury's best chance of victory lay in his tactical approach. With five skaters in each round, Bradbury knew that if two or more skaters crashed out of the race, the remaining three would all get medals. In his 1000 metre semi-final, Bradbury was in last place when the competitors ahead all crashed out in a huge pile-up, leaving Bradbury free to skate through in first. The same happened again in the final, with four out of five racers hitting the skids while Bradbury calmly skated his way to a gold medal. The Australian government issued a 45c stamp featuring Bradbury's face to celebrate his victory.
Anyone with even a passing interest in football could hardly have failed to notice the extraordinary rise of Leicester City, defying odds of 5000-1 to claim the 2016 Premier League title, but while Claudio Ranieri's team has featured the rise of many previously unheralded players like N'Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, no one player better encapsulates their against-all-odds story more than talismanic striker Jamie Vardy. Just four years earlier, Vardy had been playing non-league football with Fleetwood town. Two years before that, he was turning out for amateur side Stocksbridge Park Steels, run by the local steel plant, wearing an electronic tag on his ankle, the result of a conviction for being involved in a fight outside a Sheffield pub. Rumour has it that a film about Vardy's life is already being discussed, with Vinnie Jones in the frame to play the role of Leicester's former manager Nigel Pearson. Even for those football fans who don't hail from the blue part of the East Midlands, this is one to look out for.
Our final pick isn't even technically a sportsman, but he's become something of an icon in sports for completely different reasons to those listed above. Usually described with words along the lines of 'serial prankster', Power gained notoriety for a series of high-profile incidents, beginning in 2001 when he sneaked onto the pitch at Manchester United's Champions League final against Bayern Munich, dressed in full kit, and managed to appear in the team photo. His subsequent stunts have seen him engage in a quick game of tennis at Wimbledon before being ejected by stewards, walking out to bat with the England cricket team dressed in full whites, and sneaking onto the winners' podium at the 2002 British Grand Prix. Power was subsequently the subject of a song, 'Fat Neck', by Manchester band Black Grape, so surely a film about his exploits is the next logical step.