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Troubled Finnish ski jumping legend Matti Nykänen dead at 55

Matti Nykänen, widely considered the best male ski jumper of all time, died on Sunday night.

File photo of Matti Nykänen. Image: AOP

Finnish ski jumping legend Matti Nykänen has died at the age of 55, Yle has confirmed.

Nykänen first gained fame as a ski jumper in the beginning of the 1980s when he quickly climbed his way to the top of the sport. From 1981 until 1991 he won one silver and four gold Olympic medals, nine World Championship medals and a total of 22 Finnish Championship medals, 14 of which were gold.

By the time he claimed three gold medals at the 1988 Olympic games in Calgary, Nykänen had become a national sports hero and was named Finland's Athlete of the Year in 1985 and 1988.

Story continues after photo.

Matti Nykänen holding his three gold Olympic medals in 1988. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

His ski-jumping image was also featured on a postage stamp following his record-breaking Olympic victories in Calgary.

Post-career troubles

However, he faced many challenges during his post-athletic life and career.

Nykänen was married a total of five times. His face - and stories of his troubles - often appeared in tabloid newspaper and magazine articles throughout the remainder of his life.

At the beginning of the 90s he embarked on a career as a singer. His first album, released in 1992 sold more than 25,000 copies, but follow-up recordings were not as successful. During one period of financial hardship at the end of the decade, Nykänen took a job as a stripper.

He struggled with alcohol abuse and became known more for his violent behaviour than for his ski jumping talent. He was handed a 26-month prison sentence after a 2004 stabbing incident and then received another 16-month sentence for assaulting his wife in 2009.

Diabetes diagnosis

Last summer Nykänen was reportedly diagnosed with diabetes. Last month he told the newspaper Aamulehti that he had gotten his life back on track since the diagnosis.

"First I was scared as hell. I knew that the illness could be fatal if you don't take care of yourself. But I have found the right insulin balance and my energy and love of life has returned. It feels damn good," he told the paper.

Story continues after photo.

File photo of Matti Nykänen. Image: AOP

In recent weeks the former ski-jumping singer also began touring again. Just last Friday he performed at a packed restaurant in Helsinki and last month played to full audiences, as well.

Nykänen was born on 17 July 1963 in Jyväskylä. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Tabloid magazine Seiska first reported on Nykänen's death.