Wed, Dec 30, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Finnish hero’s fall from grace continues

RUINED REPUTATION Matti Nykanen, who dominated ski jumping during the 1980s, has become something of a national disgrace in a country that once revered him

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Matti Nykanen walks with his wife Mervi Tapola after being released from Kylmakoski prison in Finland on Sept. 21, 2005.

PHOTO: REUTERS

He is Finland’s fallen star: a national hero who was once the world’s greatest ski jumper but whose glory days have been overshadowed by drunkenness, violent outbursts and forays into pop music.

On Monday the tumultuous personal life of Matti Nykanen returned to the headlines as Finnish police confirmed they were investigating allegations he had assaulted his wife on Christmas Day.

The 46-year-old, whose retirement has been punctuated with reports of alcohol-fueled violence, was arrested on Friday after his fourth wife, Mervi Tapola, was taken to hospital with minor head and hand injuries.

Nykanen is suspected of trying to stab Tapola and strangle her with the belt of a bathrobe at their home in the southern Finnish town of Ylojarvi, police said. Tapola was discharged from hospital on the day of the alleged attack.

Despite releasing Nykanen on Monday, police said they would continue to investigate the incident. Initial charges of attempted manslaughter — denied by Nykanen — had been dropped because of a lack of evidence, but he could be charged with aggravated assault, they said.

For his legion of fans, this is the latest swerve off-piste for a four-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion whose later years have seen his reputation tarnished beyond recognition.

Nykanen, who dominated the sport of ski jumping during the 1980s has become something of a national disgrace in a country that once revered him as an athletic hero.

A regular subject of lurid tabloid headlines, the man nicknamed the “Flying Finn” has entertained and appalled in equal measure with a string of short-lived marriages and ensuing divorces. He began a career as a pop singer in the early 1990s and released three albums.

While providing lighthearted fodder for journalists, the Nykanen soap opera has had a far more serious side to it. Before the latest allegations, he had already been accused of assaulting Tapola.

In 2004 he served almost a year of a 26-month jail sentence for stabbing a drinking companion. He was also prosecuted for attacking a man with a knife in a restaurant, but the case was dropped.

Nykanen, however, blames the media for portraying him in an unflattering light. In a recent biography, he admitted: “I don’t have a private life, but I do indeed have a bad image.”

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