Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Think of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, and there is a good chance that the first two images coming to mind will be the Jamaican bobsleigh team rumbling down the track and Britain’s Eddie "The Eagle"Edwards taking off from the ski jump ramp.

While the winners at those Games in the four-man bobsleigh - the Swiss crew steered by Ekkehard Fasser - and the ski jump normal and giant hill competitions - Finland’s Matti Nykänen - are forever part of Olympic history, it is the unlikely competitors for whom Calgary 1988 was always going to be about the taking part rather than the winning that struck a powerful chord with a worldwide audience.

That chord has resonated through subsequent Games, encouraging and emboldening other would-be Olympians from countries previously unheralded in the winter scene. And the Pyeongchang Olympics that have got fully underway this weekend are reflecting that changing profile.

Edwards recalled his unlikely journey to that ski ramp in Canada for a BBC preview of Pyeongchang 2018 that went out on Thursday (February 8), revealing that doing dangerous things had always come instinctively, even when he was a child growing up in Cheltenham.

"When I was a kid, and someone dared me to do anything - climb the highest tree, scale the highest wall - I’d do it," he said."So ski jumping was the ideal sport for me…"

While his trade was anything but exotic - he became a plasterer - his ambitions were vaulting, and he attempted to become a downhill skier in time for the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo. It didn’t work out.

Most would have shrugged their shoulders and got back to the plastering. Edwards decided to go to Lake Placid, venue for the 1980 Winter Olympics, to blag a go on the ski jumping facilities.

Britain's Eddie
Britain's Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the unofficial peoples' champion, looks ahead brightly to inevitable ski jump defeat at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary - but 30 years later people still remember him ©Getty Images

Using borrowed equipment, and requiring six pairs of socks in order for the boots to fit, Edwards started off on the 10 metre hill. Later on the same day, he was pestering the guys in the office to have a crack at the 90m hill.

It took him a little time to escalate to that point, but get there he did. He was Britain’s only ski jumper, and represented his country at the 1987 World Championships. He finished 55th - a result that qualified him, as the sole British applicant, for the 1988 Winter Olympics.

He reportedly heard of his qualification while working as a plasterer, residing temporarily in a Finnish mental hospital as he had no money for alternative accommodation.

"To become the first ever Briton to ski jump at the Olympics was a dream come true," he said.

"When I got to Calgary there were these signs up saying 'Welcome to Calgary, Eddie the Eagle'. I said 'Who’s that?' And they said: 'That’s you!' And it went from there…”

To most observers the sight of this owlishly bespectacled, trimly moustachioed figure, game and obliging, doomed to lose, was a winning one.

The statistics tell one story. In the first of the two individual events, on the 70m hill, Edwards finished 58th and last with two efforts of 55.00, earning 69.2 points. His nearest competitor, Bernat Sola of Spain, totalled 140.4 points after jumps of 71.00m and 68.5m. Nykänen totalled 229.1 points with two efforts of 89.5m

In the second event, on the 90m hill, Edwards finished 55th and last with efforts of 30.00m and 27.5m. His nearest competitor, Todd Gillman of Canada, recorded 80.8m and 30.00m. Nykänen managed 120.8 and 103.2.

But the statistics don’t tell the story of Edwards’ phenomenal appeal. After his dogged exploits on the normal hill, a crowd of 90,000 gathered to watch the competition on the large hill, and many were the signs of support for this myopic Brit, and great was the applause as he competed.

"I gave them a wave before I jumped, and they were all going mad," he said. The wider world was of similar mind.

The separate, worrying category into which this new ski jumping phenomenon belonged was evident from the BBC commentary: "And there you are, he’s safely down… and listen to the crowd!"

The Eagle has not quite landed - Eddie Edwards competing on the 70m hill at Calgary 1988, where is lack of experience was clear for all to see and led to new rules being introduced ©Getty Images
The Eagle has not quite landed - Eddie Edwards competing on the 70m hill at Calgary 1988, where is lack of experience was clear for all to see and led to new rules being introduced ©Getty Images

The British press, as you might expect, loved "Eddie the Eagle" to bits (although one Italian journalist described him as a "ski dropper"). He became a bit of a celebrity.

He appeared on talk shows around the world, including The Tonight Show during the Games.

At the closing ceremony, the President of Calgary 1988, Frank King, singled out Edwards for his contribution.

King said, looking at the competitors, "You have broken world records and you have established personal bests. Some of you have even soared like an eagle."

Tthe Eagle’s wings were soon clipped, however, by the International Ski Federation (FIS) through what became known unofficially as the "Eddie the Eagle Rule", which required Olympic hopefuls to compete in international events and be placed in the top 30 per cent or the top 50 competitors, whichever was fewer

Edwards failed to qualify for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville and Lillehammer 1994. But the appeal was still strong enough for him to be given a five-year sponsorship from Eagle Airlines, a small British charter company, to support his attempt to reach Nagano 1998. That also proved beyond him.

"Unfortunately because I became so popular they said it wasn’t right that a guy who came 58th should get more attention than the man who won the event," Edwards recalled.

"After Calgary they kicked me off the British team, the Olympic team, and I was prevented from ski jumping ever again. But for me, jumping at the Olympic Games was my dream and I made my dream come true."

The ski jumping route that Edwards had followed may not have been open for other equally unlikely contenders, but he continued to be an inspirational figure for future aspirants.

Edwards’s popularity has endured. Two years ago a film of his life. Eddie the Eagle, was released, starring Taron Egerton as Eddie and Hugh Jackman as his trainer. From myopic to biopic.

The FIS, as you might expect, has an ambivalent attitude to Edwards. A spokesperson told insidethegames: "Naturally anytime a Hollywood movie is made about your sport it helps increase its awareness and popularity and one of the storylines that journalists cover most at the Olympics is about the non-traditional athletes from smaller nations.

"Of course, especially with such a specialised sport like ski jumping it is important to ensure that competitors have a certain standard for safety purposes."

But in order to maintain lines of communication with "non-winter" nations the FIS established a development programme that has run since 1996.

These imminent Olympics will see six countries competing at a Winter Games for the first time, and four of them will be involved in events under the FIS.

Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez, pictured during last year's FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, will be the first athlete representing Ecuador at a Winter Olympics when he competes in Pyeongchang ©Getty Images
Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez, pictured during last year's FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, will be the first athlete representing Ecuador at a Winter Olympics when he competes in Pyeongchang ©Getty Images

Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez will be the first athlete from Ecuador to compete at a Winter Olympics when he takes part in the 14 kilometres cross-country skiing.

Rodriguez is nicknamed the "tarmac skier" because he spent his younger years training on the cycle paths and country roads of Guayaquil with rollerskis due to the lack of snow in Ecuador.

Twenty-one year old Shannon-Ogbani Abeda, brought up in Canada, will become Eritrea’s first winter Olympian when he competes in the Alpine skiing slalom and giant slalom events.

In 2014 the International Olympic Committee recognised Kosovo's ability to compete as an independent nation, allowing the country to compete at Rio 2016. 

Alpine skier Albin Tahiri, bought up in Slovenia, will be the first Kosovan to participate in the Winter Olympics, competing in the men’s downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, and Alpine combined events.

Malaysia will also make their arrival in men’s alpine skiing, thanks to 18-year-old Jeffrey Webb - who was brought up in the United States.

Edwards was not the only unlikely 1988 Olympian to merit a biopic. The emotional power of the Jamaican bobsleigh team’s Calgary campaign was also enough to generate interest in a highly popular film, Cool Runnings, that came out in 1993.

And for aspiring bobsleigh Olympians, the tracks this intrepid team made in Calgary have been more directly followed.

The 1988 Jamaicans’ story had many of the elements that made Edwards’s appeal so strong. They were rank outsiders. They were doggedly determined. They were brave. And they had to overcome something that Edwards had openly acknowledged at the start of his career - although not, as he was at pains to point out, while he was competing in Calgary. Namely, fear.

Edwards memorably expressed his emotions during his first encounter with a proper ski jump: "When I looked from the top of the jump, I was so frightened that my bum shrivelled up like a prune."

Jamaica's bobsleigh team get their Calgary 1988 Games challenge underway - they finished last, but they started something big...including a cult Hollywood move Cool Runnings ©Getty Images
Jamaica's bobsleigh team get their Calgary 1988 Games challenge underway - they finished last, but they started something big...including a cult Hollywood move Cool Runnings ©Getty Images

There was a similarly steep learning curve for the Jamaicans in general, and in particular for Chris Stokes, younger brother of the four-man bob’s pilot, Dudley.

Stokes junior, a sprinter who was training for that year’s Summer Olympics in Seoul - he didn’t get there - was only in Calgary as a spectator.

But when team member Caswell Allen was injured in somewhat mysterious circumstances days before the competition, the pilot turned in his hour of need to his kid brother.

After managing to get last-minute Olympic accreditation - another option no longer open to aspiring newcomers to the Games - Stokes was in.

To an extent, it must have felt a bit like joining a successful rock group on the eve of their biggest tour. Within the Olympic world, the Jamaican boblsledders were hot. Indeed, they had tee-shirts printed with the phrase "Hottest thing on ice", and recorded a reggae record, Hobbin and a Bobbin. The shirts sold. The song was a hit. The sporting world was ready for the "Cool Runnings Boys".

But there was a starker reality to be faced for the incoming sprinter. Chris Stokeshad just three days to become a bobsledder. And that was a very different challenge to the 100 and 200m.

 "I sort of felt scared," he later wrote. "Am I going to be safe or tossed around like a rag doll?

"Sprinting downhill on ice is hard enough. And then you have another mile of hurdling down this ice shoot, which is plain terrifying."

History records that Stokes junior rose nobly to the challenge. It also records that the Jamaican team - Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris, Michael White and Chris Stokes - was last out of the 26 teams. But not officially 26th as the team members didn’t undertake the fourth and final run following their crash on the third, after which they had manfully emerged to push their borrowed sled across the line. 

They may not have officially finished, but the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team had done something far more important - they had started.

The Stokes brothers went on to compete in three more Olympics - Albertville 1992, Lillehammer 1994, where the four-man crew finished 14th,  and Nagano 1998.

Chris Stokes has been President of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation since 1995, and wrote Cool Runnings and Beyond – The Story of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team.

The legacy of that bold adventure is amply evident in the Pyeongchang 2018 start lists for a bobsleigh competition that is due to get underway next Sunday (February 17).

Ghana's first winter Olympian, Akwasi Frimpong, carries the national flag at the Opening Ceremony of Pyeongchang 2018 before his skeleton competition ©Getty Images
Ghana's first winter Olympian, Akwasi Frimpong, carries the national flag at the Opening Ceremony of Pyeongchang 2018 before his skeleton competition ©Getty Images

A spokesperson for the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) assessed the long-term effect of the "Cool Runnings Boys" for insidethegames:

"Coming from a non-traditional winter sport country, the Jamaican Bobsleigh impact on the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary was stunning. The media and fans loved the story about this 'exotic' team.

"The athletes had to overcome many special challenges in order to be able to participate in the Olympic Winter Games. Due to the fact that there are only a few Olympic Ice Tracks in the world, it needs quite some resources for athletes not living next to proper training facilities to achieve a professional level.

"Although the Jamaican team was listed as not having finished the event and being placed in the last place overall, they showed the fans and media a great insight into our fantastic sport.

"Bobsleigh is a lot about passion, team spirit and that giving up is never an option.

"The Jamaicans in 1988 showed that you do not need to be born next to an ice-track or in a winter sport region to be able to enjoy our amazing sport.

"In fact, if you look at history, the man who is said to have invented the bobsleigh sport in 1888 - Wilson Smith - was British - which was at that time not a very typical winter sport nation.

"Who could have imagined that exactly 100 years later athletes coming from a Caribbean country were competing in Bobsleigh at the Olympic Winter Games.

"Today bobsleigh is global sport. Our race calendar includes competitions on three continents every season and we are proud to say, that we have a great variety of members within our international federation.

"Our more than 70 National Federations are based all over the world including American Samoa, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Trinidad-Tobago, Virgin Island, Western Samoa - just to name the most winter sport a-typical examples.

“IBSF offers special support for emerging nations to facilitate their start into our sport including professional coaches, track times and transport subsidies.

"For the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, we have again some new nations on the track – Ghana in the skeleton and a women’s bobsleigh team from Nigeria.”

Jamaica has now sent men’s sleds to six Winter Olympics, but these Games will see Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian become the first woman to pilot a Jamaican sled in the Olympics, in company with brakewoman Carrie Russell.

Fenlator-Victorian was a member of the United States team at Sochi 2014, finishing 11th with sometime 100m hurdler Lolo Jones, but switched representation in 2015 - her father is Jamaican.

The problem of what to call the sled that will as solved just before she made her World Cup debut in December - it is now known as "Mr Cool Bolt", a nod both to Cool Runnings and the newly retired sprinting marvel Usain Bolt.

For Pyeongchang 2018, however, it is Nigeria’s women’s bobsleigh team that is being billed as "Cool Runnings" reloaded - and they are happy enough with it as they prepare to become the first African crew to participate in this event at Olympic level.

Moriam Seun Adigun set out to build the country’s first bobsled team in 2016, teaming up with Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga to create Nigeria’s National Bobsled Federation.

The three athletes, all of whom grew up and studied in America and were known as track athletes, created a GoFundMe campaign to secure funding for the training, equipment, and travel expenses needed to represent the country in this year’s Winter Olympics.

They will be the first Nigerian athletes delegated to compete at an Olympic Winter Games alongside Simidele Adeagbo, who will be competing in the skeleton events.

The Nigerian women's sled gets underway in early practice at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
The Nigerian women's sled gets underway in early practice at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

Thirty years after the Jamaican men's bobsled team made their colourful Olympic debut, these Nigerian athletes are poised to become Pyeongchang's unlikeliest star performers.

Perhaps that billing should be shared with Akwasi Frimpong, the 31-year-old who will become Ghana’s first Olympic competitor in the Skeleton event.

The route to this Olympic summit has been tantalisingly vexed. Frimpong has been a 200m sprinter who just missed out on representing his adopted country of The Netherlands at London 2012 after an untimely tendon injury. And then a bobsled brakeman who had to accept being a reserve for the Dutch team at Sochi 2014. 

"I battled for 13 years," Frimpong told CNN Sport. "Giving up was an option, but being patient and persistent nurtured the champion from within. Me going to the Games is a message to anyone out there that is dreaming of something big."

And out there, as the Beijing Winter Olympics of 2022 will surely bear witness, someone will be listening.