Tomorrow there are celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. It is hard to believe that two decades have past, even stranger, there are still signs of the event everywhere. Walk down town and you are bound to see someone wearing one of the official jackets from the games. The symbolic snowflake used as a logo is still much in evidence in windows and on walls.

20 years ago I was working in the main control room for the Olympics, a room incidentally that would have made NASA proud. It was a lot like mission control. Arranged in ever larger concentric circles we started with the ‘mission controllers’, the communication experts from Motorola, the timing experts from Swiss Timing, The TV and satellite wizards, the infrastructure experts, and last but not least, us IBM trained computer geeks.

We gathered in rapt awe as the countdown started, “10, 9 8, ….3, 2, 1 and we have a live world wide feed”, the satellite expert announced, and with that the huge bank of TV monitors lit up, each showing a different part of the Olympic experience.

One of the most poignant moments was the morning after the opening ceremonies. Although it was only 7am, and the events were not due to start for several hours, mission control was full. We had one camera fixed on the Olympic flame at McMahon Stadium the site of the opening ceremonies. This particular feed was live around the world, you can imagine out amusement and shock when a lowly security guard wanted into the TV picture, he stood looking in awe at the flaming cauldron while he picked his nose! I wonder how many millions of viewers watched our rent-a-cop dig for gold!

The Olympics were in my mind were memorable not so much for the medals won, but the people who participated. There was the infamous Jamaican Bobsled Team, they won nothing but the hearts of the Calgarian’s, oh, and a Disney movie, Cool Runnings. They arrived in town with little more than the clothes on their backs, and somehow managed to scrounge up a Bobsled and even some uniforms to wear. I think their fasted time down the track was the run where the Bobsled turned over at the first corner and careened upside down for the rest of the run! 

Maybe the most notable athlete though was the one and only 90 meter Ski Jumper from England, Michael Edwards. Michael was as fearless as he was clueless! He finished absolutely dead last, and loved every moment of it. He quickly acquired the nickname of Eddie the Eagle, a name that has endured the test of time. Eddie the Eagle is back in Calgary to celebrate the 20th anniversary, and I am sure that Calgary will treat his as the beloved lost son. During the 88 Olympics Edie became an overnight sensation, appearing on TV and Radio, opening night clubs and wowing everyone with his 90 meter prowess.

The Mission Control centre was always a noisy place, radios, tv’s and general chatter, the only time I ever saw it quiet, so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, was when Eddie The Eagle was jumping. And with each awful jump the place would erupt in applause and cheers! Eddie was our hero, the very embodiment of sportsmanship.

It is with great please that we entertain this very entertaining sportsman one more time. Have a great visit Eddie.

Simon Barrett

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