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Farewell, Matti Nykänen

Most sports I can imagine myself doing, but just being rubbish at them. There are a few that seem to defy possibility – ski jumping is one of them. Maybe as a result, I’ve always found it utterly gripping. When I was in my 30s, an age when sporting heroes seem to make a comeback (in my 20s I thought I was far too arty and intellectual for such stuff, then I realized I wasn’t), ski jumping was dominated by Matti Nykänen. Soaring through the air in a way that nobody else seemed capable of, he ripped the record-books apart. He came from a small, undemonstrative country that didn’t coin medals the way that the US, Russia and East Germany did, too. I relished his success.

He later surfaced in Eddie the Eagle, a movie I really like, despite its being a trifle formulaic (such films either work or they don’t, and this one does for me). But now he is gone, aged 55. His post-sporting career was a long battle with booze, and the booze ended up winning.

As a writer, there’s always that question: if you were offered the chance to be a genius, but the price was the terrible lostness that seemed to close over the Flying Finn, would you accept it?

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