Finnish sports icon in trouble for alleged attack of his wife

HELSINKI (AP) — Matti Nykanen soared like an eagle during the 1980s, winning more medals than any other ski jumper. He was dubbed “The Eagle of the Hills,” an icon in a country where ski jumping is a great source of pride.

Now he is 46 and in retirement, having taken a mighty fall.

He is suspected of attempting to stab and strangle his wife, Mervi Tapola-Nykanen, on Christmas Day in their home. He was released after charges of attempted manslaughter were dropped, but police say he might be charged with aggravated assault.

He has been there before.

In 2006, Nykanen was sentenced to four months in prison for assaulting his wife. The attack occurred three days after he was released from jail after serving 13 months of a 26-month sentence for a stabbing offense in 2004.

Nykanen, always scant with words, has refused to comment on his arrests, violent behavior and drinking bouts.

The latest episode surprised many because the alcohol-fueled, volatile years of Nykanen’s relationship with his wife appeared over.

The couple met in 1999 and married in 2001. They divorced two years later and remarried in 2004 — on top of a ski jumping ramp. From the beginning, they quarreled and brawled, but always came back together.

For about three years before last Christmas, there had been no arrests or fights. The couple was seen partying amicably together at summer celebrations last year.

Nykanen seemed to have settled down, announcing a new TV show and the launch of a cookbook. He also had plans to open a ski resort near his hometown of Jyvaskyla, 160 miles north of Helsinki, according to former national ski jump coach Matti Pulli.

Pulli was surprised by the news of Nykanen’s arrest in December.

“We had done so much together that I felt really bad when I read the news,” Pulli said. “I had always hoped for something else, something different, because Matti has all the possibilities of doing so much more.”

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