Sunday, 16 October 2011

Matti Nykänen

Last Monday, former ski-jumping champion Matti Nykänen started a 16 month prison sentence in Kupio for aggravated assault on his on-off wife Mervi Tapola in 2009.

This is just the most recent twist in the “car crash” life Nykänen has led since retiring from top-flight (fortuitous pun) ski-jumping in the late 1980s.

As a regular visitor to Finland, I have discovered that Matti Nykänen is an essential part of Finnish popular culture. Nykänen is a major celebrity in Finland, and rarely out of the tabloids. He is also the author of many (mostly unintentionally) humorous quotes, which have become very popular sayings in Finland. A foreigner quoting  in a conversation with Finns “the chances are 50-60” (even in English) will always earn extra kudos.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Nykänen before travelling to Finland, probably because a) I have never followed ski-jumping and b) he is Finnish (and, let's face it, internationally famous Finns are rare).

For those in the know though, Nykänen is rated as the best ski-jumper in the world ever. In the mid- to late-1980s, he dominated the sport, winning pretty much everything.

Since retiring however, Nykänen has led a very colourful life, in which alcohol has featured greatly. He has been a singer, a stripper, a TV-cook and has lent his name to a cider. He has also had a tempestuous and indeed violent relationship with the aforementioned Mervi Tapola, the heiress of a sausage fortune, whom he has married twice. The incident that has landed Nykänen in prison was the last of many violent altercations between them.

It's interesting how the public, not just in Finland but in other countries too, is morbidly fascinated by top sportsmen hell-bent on self-destruction. Think of American footballer OJ Simpson, Belgian cyclist Frank Vandenbroucke, or Northern Irish football player George Best (“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars; the rest I just squandered”). Or indeed think of other celebrities, such as US actor Charlie Sheen or French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (who drunkenly told a young Whitney Houston on live TV that he wanted to “f**k” her to the dismay of the show-host who tried to explain “he says you are great”)...

What makes us so fascinated by all this? Is it just schadenfreude?

1 comment: