Matti Nykanen: Olympic ski jumping champion dies aged 55

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Olympic ski jumping champion Matti Nykanen has died at the age of 55.

Known as “The Flying Finn,” Nykanen won four Olympic gold medals, seven World Championship titles and 46 individual World Cup titles in a 10-year career.

“Matti died last night,” his wife Pia Nykanen told Finnish weekly magazine Seiska, without revealing the cause of death.

In a stellar sporting career, which began in 1981, he won the gold medal in the large hill event and a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984, aged just 20.

His crowning glory came four years later in Calgary, where he became the first man to win all three gold medals in his event.

The director of Finland’s ski jumping federation, Clas Brede Brathen, called him an icon in the sport.

“Matti was to ski jumping what Lionel Messi or Diego Maradona are for football. He took our sport to the next level. He was the hero, an idol for generations. Everybody wanted to jump like Matti,” Mr Brathen said.

Feted as one of his country’s greatest figures, he found life after sport hard to cope with when he retired in 1991.

Nykanen began drinking and was twice jailed for violent behaviour, once for 26 months after a 59-year-old man was stabbed in 2004.

In 2009, he was sentenced to 16 months for an aggravated assault on his wife.

He was married three times and often ran into money trouble, leading to spells as a stripper and erotic film actor.

Upon retirement, a group of business backers tried to turn him into a pop star, but his album sold only 25,000 copies.

Trying to explain his issues, Nykanen once said: “I was very young when I became successful, the media was around me all the time – I could have used some help. That was the beginning. Later in life, I drank because I had nothing else to do, because I wanted to forget.”

Germany’s national ski-jumping coach Werner Schuster, said: “Unfortunately, Nykanen was only a genius on the hill. He was lost in real life.”

(c) Sky News 2019: Matti Nykanen: Olympic ski jumping champion dies aged 55

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