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Matti Nykänen, the Flying Finn who fell so far, so fast | Andy Bull | Sport

Matti Nykänen used to fly so far, so fast that it felt as if he would never come down. When the Finn broke the world ski jump record for the fifth, and final, time at Planica in 1985 he was moving so quickly that the cameraman struggled to track him through the air.Watching the footage you wonder if he might disappear into the yonder off the far side of the screen. In those days, the mid-1980s, Nykänen was the best ski jumper in the world and almost unbeatable. The records were the least of it. He won five world titles, five Olympic medals, including three golds in one Games, and four World Cups.Matti Nykänen, Finnish ski-jumping great, dies aged 55 Read more Nykänen had an otherworldly talent but not the sense, or support, he needed to cope with the fame it won him. When he published his authorised biography in 2006 he called it Greetings From Hell. “Hell,” he said, “can’t be as bad as my life has been.”He was one of the greatest Winter Olympic athletes and one the finest sportspeople Finland has ever had, and he was also a singer and a stripper, an alcoholic and a wife-beater. He died last week, at the age of 55. In one of his last public appearances, a singing gig in Helsinki, he told his audience: “Consider yourself lucky your name isn’t Matti Nykänen.”FacebookTwitterPinterest Matti Nykanen at the Puijo ski jumping competition in Kuopio, Finland in 1981. Photograph: Juha Jormanainen/Rex/Shutterstock The first time Nykänen tried ski jumping it was on a dare from his father. He was eight years old. That was on the hill in Jyväskylä, where he grew up, 150 miles north of Helsinki. He enjoyed jumping so much that he became obsessed with it. He was a hyperactive child and the sport became his outlet for all his excess energy.“The only thing I wanted was to jump,” he said, “and to jump, and to jump again.” His local hill had a chairlift and floodlights, which meant he could go on late into the night. By the time he was 12 he was practising for nine hours a day, watched over by his canny coach, Matti Pulli.Nykänen was just 18, and in his first full season on the senior circuit, when he won the world championship at Holmenkollen in Oslo, jumping in fog so thick that he could hardly see the end of his skis, let alone the bottom of the slope. In 1984, he won the Olympic gold on the large hill in Sarajevo, in a competition that became famous for his duel with the German jumper Jens Weissflog. At Calgary in 1988, where the British fell for Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, Nykänen swept all three gold medals, winning on the large hill and the normal hill and in the team event.Even then, Nykänen’s drinking was a problem. He took his first sip when he was 14 and never really lost the taste for it. He was kicked off the national team once in 1985,...

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