Finnish ski jumping ace Matti Nykanen, who after his sporting career made headlines as a pop singer and stripper and did repeated stints in prison for assault, has died suddenly aged 55, reports say.
Nykanen, arguably the best ski jumper of all time, dominated the sport in the 1980s when he won four Olympic gold medals, six world titles and the World Cup four times.
Finnish magazine Seiska and public broadcaster YLE said he died suddenly overnight to Monday, citing the ex-athlete’s “close circle”.
The cause of death was not immediately known. Nykanen was diagnosed with diabetes in 2018, YLE said.
He won the first of his four world titles in 1982, at the age of 18, and was a living legend in Finland where ski jumping is as popular as ice hockey or Formula 1 racing.
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He won gold and silver medals at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo before becoming the first man in Olympic history to win both individual jumps at the Calgary Games, four years later, as well as the team title.
His illustrious career as an athlete was tarnished by 25 years of repeated reports of alcohol abuse and violence against his friends and many wives.
In 2004, a Finnish court sentenced Nykanen, then 41, to two years and two months in prison for assaulting a friend with a knife during a drunken brawl after he lost a finger-pulling contest.
Just days after being released, he was arrested again for beating his estranged fifth wife, millionaire sausage company heiress Mervi Tapola-Nykanen, whom he married twice.
He spent Christmas Day 2009 in a jail cell after he pulled a knife on her before trying to strangle her with the cord of a dressing gown.
That attack eventually saw him sentenced to 16 months behind bars.
– People hoped he’d get better –
After retiring from ski jumping in 1991, he tried his hand as a pop star, with his 1992 album of Finnish power-pop selling gold.
He also did a stint as a male stripper in a nightclub, and worked on an erotic phone line.
Despite the headlines, Nykanen was still considered a national treasure, his escapades often eliciting as much public sympathy as disapproval.
“People want to forget it exists, like we do with sports heroes. This is a person you used to idolise as a child, so you hope, ‘I wish they’d get better’,” sports journalist Janne Oivio of the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper told YLE in 2015.
Nykanen began hitting the slopes aged eight, in response to a dare by his father.
Unafraid of the teetering heights of the ski ramps, jumping quickly became an obsession.
“The only thing I wanted was to jump,” he said in his biography, “and to jump, and to jump again.”