Nordic combined athlete Mani Cooper wants to change the face of British winter sport.
But first, the record-breaking teenager is delighted to embrace the legend of the man who for many used to define the nation’s self-deprecating attitude towards all things snow and ski.
Thirty-two years ago a plasterer named Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards finished last twice in the men’s ski jump at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games and instantly won a place in the hearts of the British public.
Despite being born more than 15 years later, and already well on her way to carving out a sporting career based on excellence, Cooper is just as enamoured of the bespectacled Edwards as everyone else.
“I have to say I had to kind of hold my tears back a bit,” she said after receiving a video message of support from the Olympian on Saturday morning – shortly before she became the first female British Nordic combined athlete to compete at an Olympic event.
“I have met him before and he’s exactly the same [as people think].”
Carrying Edwards’ best wishes with her, Cooper jumped 69m in the morning’s ski jump event before battling through a tough cross-country ski race to finish 19th overall.
Not bad for an athlete from a country with almost no history in the sport.
And, in contrast to Edwards, who did not compete at the elite level again after 1988, Cooper’s first Olympic experience is just the beginning.
“This competition is an amazing experience and it’s a stepping-stone,” she said. “It’s progress, progress, progress.”
Perhaps more relevantly than the now 56-year-old Edwards, the current world-leading female Nordic combined competitor Tara Geraghty-Moats (USA) is another who believes in Cooper.
“After the race she came up to me and told me I have improved and I need to keep working,” Cooper said. “I know I need to keep working and I am going to keep working.”
Born and brought up in England, Cooper moved to Austria to pursue her ambitions when she was 10 years old. She now lives and trains in Innsbruck and the access to top-class facilities and training mates is powering her forwards.
“They help me so much, they did my skis today,” she said, referring to the Austrian women’s Nordic combined team. With Lisa Hirner (AUT) winning the inaugural women’s Youth Olympic gold, she is clearly in the right place.
Mani Cooper made history today as the first female British athlete to compete in Nordic Combined at an Olympic event, with a brilliant performance earning her 19th place!— GB Snowsport (@GBSnowsport) January 18, 2020
📷 @sammellishphoto#GoBeyond #Lausanne2020 #YouthOlympics pic.twitter.com/myhL2Fk6ed
There is, however, no suggestion anything is diluting her British identity.
“It’s amazing representing Britain, I have to say I have been very emotional lately,” she said. “After the jump I was in my cabin in happy tears, looking at the family group [photograph] I have got with of my little cousins saying ‘Go Mani’.
“I heard some British fans on the course saying, ‘Go on GB’ which was cool.”