Flawed ski jumping superstar

Passing Date: 
Sunday, February 3, 2019

Matti Nykänen, the Finnish ski jumping hero, died February 3, 2019, at age 55, reportedly in a diabetic coma.

Between 1981 and 1989 Nykänen won four Olympic gold medals (one in 1984, three in 1988), 46 World Cup events, five World Cup championships and five World Championship gold medals.

An alcoholic from age 14, Nykänen was booted from Finland’s national team twice, in 1983 and 1987. He had a Jekyll-Hyde personality – friendly and sociable when sober, violent when drunk. He became notorious for brawling and vandalism, and served two prison sentences: 26 months for stabbing a friend while blackout drunk in 2004, and 16 months for stabbing and choking his wife, the heiress Mervi Tapola, at Christmas, 2009. Beginning in 1986 he was married six times to five women (Tapola married him twice).

Born on July 17, 1963, in Jyväskylä, Finland, Nykänen began jumping at age eight and won his first competition in March, 1974.  In February, 1981, he won gold at the FIS Junior World Championships, and took his first World Cup win in December that year. His first World Cup championship came in 1983. At the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Nykänen won gold on the large hill and silver on the normal hill.

In March 1984, Nykänen broke the ski jumping distance record twice at Oberstdorf, Germany. He repeated that feat in 1985 while becoming the first person to clear the 190-meter barrier with a 191-meter jump. He also took home the World Ski Flying Championship. Nykänen added more World Cup titles to his collection in 1985, 1986 and 1988. At the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, he became the first ski jumper to score three gold medals in a single Olympic competition as he won the normal hill by 17 points, the large hill by 16.5 points, and led Finland to gold in the team event. On the large hill, 23 percent of Nykänen’s flight was beyond the K-point, a record in the parallel style era. 

After retiring from competition, Nykänen earned a precarious living as a singer (one hit album, one flop), phone-sex worker and, very briefly, a stripper. He sold his name to a hard cider beverage.

He is survived by his last wife, Tia Talanpoika, and three children from previous relationships.

For a full biography, see Matti Nykänen: Greatest Ski Jumper of Greatest Tragedy, from the September/October2011 issue of Skiing History.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Leave a comment


If you would like to leave a comment or remark, please login to your subscriber account.