Matti Nykänen was a troubled man
2019-03-01 00:00:00 -

Panu Höglund


As much the Irish love sports, I don’t think they are very interested in ski jumping, but Finns are quite fond of all kinds of sports somehow connected with snow or ice: cross-country skiing, ski jumping, ice hockey — take your pick.

Watching ski jumping on the New Year’s Day is a national ritual for Finns, for that’s the very day when the ski jumping contest is held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is part of the so-called ‘Vierschanzen-Tournee’, or ‘Four Hills Tournament’ - the three other contests are held in Innsbruck, Bischofshofen, and Oberstdorf. In Finland, the tournament is called the ‘German-Austrian Ski Jumping Week’.

Towards the end of the eighties, Matti Nykänen was the main reason why Finns watched TV during that week, and as he himself said: “Germany-Austria is my second homeland.” (As if it was one country!) Well, he certainly knew what he was talking about.

Matti Nykänen was born in the early sixties and started to win ski jumping contests when he was just a teenager - even world championships and Olympic gold medals. He was a ski jumper like no one else. But at the same time he was obviously a troubled man.

He needed his trainer to keep him away from alcohol, which meant that he never learnt to hold his liquor by himself. And when he was drunk, it came too naturally to him to get into fights. He was marrying and divorcing one wife after another, with wives falling in love with the sports hero to start with and getting tired of the domestic violence soon afterwards.

There was no real livelihood available to Nykänen after his sports career, either. So, he could only co-operate with a certain gossip rag to make money. Basically, he created one scandal after another for the rag to write about, and the rag paid him money for the scandals.

Now Nykänen is dead, and it is possible there will yet be debate about his tragic life, not to mention other ex-sports heroes.

When his sporting days were over, Nykänen was often barely distinguishable from a street alcoholic, and in fact it seems that he had to rely on such for friendship and jolly company most of the time.

As long as he kept ski jumping, we as a nation were only too happy to identify with him and think of his gold medals as our own. But where were we when he started to sell those medals to buy booze?

Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish. His newest publication is the anti-racist thriller Tine sa Chácóin.

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