Emily Goddard
Alan HubbardThe Winter Olympics in Sochi are one year away this week, and the portents are good, with Britain already heading for the podium thanks to two of the world's fastest ladies.

Intrepid bob skeleton ace Shelley Rudman, a shock silver medallist in Turin seven years ago, won her first world championship in St Moritz last weekend, a month shy of her 32nd birthday; last month  short track speed skater Elise Christie, ten years her junior, became  double European champion over 1,500 and 1,000 metres.

With a little luck, both could be headline-making winners in Sochi.

Yet exactly quarter of a century ago, it was a famous British loser whose name was on everyone's lips, much to the chagrin of the British Olympic Association (BOA).

This month marks 25 years since Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards soared into our consciousness as a truly abominable snowman. Looking somewhere between Mr Magoo and Benny Hill's Fred Scuttle, the squinting ski jumper from Stroud won the world's hearts, though nothing else, in Calgary.

Eddie The Eagle Edwards in action at Calgary 1988Eddie The Eagle Edwards in action at Calgary 1988

Until the advent of Audley Harrison, Edwards surely was the most ridiculed figure in British sport, but he's always had bottle.

And now he's finally landed on his feet.

Or rather, in ten feet of water.

For last weekend he was soaring again, this time more Seagull than Eagle, plunging off the high board in to win the final of ITV's schmaltzy diving-for dilettantes reality show Splash!

A confession: In insidethegames recently, I trashed Splash! in which teenage Olympian Tom Daley acts host and mentor to pseudo-celebs who strive to emulate him in a diving competition as an unmitigated belly flop.

But after watching Eddie on Saturday night I take some of it back, for the boy done good.

Actually, he was better than that.

He was positively brilliant, so much so that Daley's own coach Andy Banks, one of the three judges who scored his individual dive a perfect ten, declared he was "almost Olympic class" off the high board.

Not bad after just six weeks tuition from Tom.

Now Banks may be over-egging it bit but even Daley himself did not appear to have his tongue in his cheek when suggesting that 49-year-old Edwards should consider entering the national championships.

The only better diving display I've seen of late was from Luis Suárez.

Eddie The Eagle Edwards was crowned Splash series championEddie The Eagle Edwards was crowned Splash! series champion

Indeed, Daley and The Eagle were in near-perfect synch when they plunged and piked together to secure victory over a bloke who plays a waiter in Benidorm and a woman who fronts  another TV show giving homes a make-over.

While in reality the prospect of Tom and Eddie together in Rio is as unlikely a pairing as Tom and Jerry, Edwards at least made a spectacle out of a potential farce.

Eddie has had a bit of a makeover himself – surgery to reduce his jutting jaw, and lens implants. So minus those pebbledash specs and with discernible pecs he seemed more of an actual Olympian than he did in Calgary, cutting quite dash in his budgie-smuggler Speedos and faring rather better than Olympic bronze medal boxer Anthony Ogogo who had to pull out with an arm injury.

I have always had an affection for Eddie ever since the blazers turned their backs on him – and the de Coubertin philosophy that taking part is more important than winning, pouring scorn on his double last place plummet in 1988 and virtually ignoring the enormous contribution he had made towards raising awareness about the Winter Olympics to an otherwise apathetic British public. Not to mention his unbounded bravery.

A comedic figure maybe, but unsteady Eddie was loved by the public, who admired his derring-do and old world gumption.

In Calgary, where the Eagle dared, as in the Nordic heartlands of ski jumping, he was seen as someone to be celebrated, not sneered at. Now he says: "I'm always surprised people remember me. It must have been a strong message I gave out. I was a true amateur and typified what the Olympic spirit is about. Some may have laughed at me back home but in other countries they appreciated what I was trying to do because they understand the difficulties and complexities of the sport."

Edwards was Britain's first Olympic ski jumper – and remains the only one. And the nearest the Olympics has ever got to another of his kind is Eric the Eel (Eric Moussambani, from Equatorial Guinea) who took almost two minutes to swim a 100 metres freestyle heat at the Sydney 2000  Games.

Moussambani completed the swim in atime of 1 52 72 over a minute behind the World Record for the distanceEric the Eel completed the swim at Sydney 2000 in a time of 1:52.72 over a minute behind the world record for the distance

People may also forget that his Calgary leap was no one-off. He persevered with his impossible dream and reckons to have made thousands of jumps (the last in September 1997), fracturing his skull twice, breaking his jaw, collarbone and ribs and damaging a kidney and knee.

The British Ski Federation could have picked him as a wild card for three subsequent Games but snootily elected not to, even though his distances had increased from 55 metres (on the 90-metre jump) to 85 metres and from 71 metres to 115 metres on the 120-metre jump. And he wasn't always last. In the US Championships he finished 29th out of 85 and believed he had qualified for the 1998 Games but was again refused a wild card. The Olympic authorities had already introduced what is known as the "Eddie Rule" which requires a certain standard in order to qualify – meaning that participating athletes had to be in the world's top 50.

He resolutely refuses to see himself as a loser, more someone who has overcome massive odds. "What people didn't realise was that at heart, I was simply an athlete who wanted to do the best I could."

What he did last Saturday night surely underlined that.

The one certainty is that there won't be another Eddie The Eagle in Sochi. Which is really rather of a shame.

Sport has become a such deadly serious business these days that we could do with putting some fun into the Games.

Eddie The Eagle Edwards Calgary 1988Eddie The Eagle Edwards' 15 minutes of fame at Calgary 1988 have turned into a lifetime's celebrity

The po-faced blazerati may still splutter over his Canadian capers ("they thought I was bringing the sport into disrepute and have shunned me ever since") but his 15 minutes of fame have turned into a lifetime's celebrity.

The once-bankrupt plasterer now makes a decent living giving after-dinner speeches and entertaining cruise ship passengers with motivational lectures  based on his inimitable winter's tale.

He has also, in his spare time, acquired a law degree – which makes him a legal eagle.

Boom boom!

But it is he who he is having the last laugh on those who continue to deride him as a national joke when actually he's more of a national treasure.

The sort you go diving for.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.