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Forget about the Downhillers at mount Allan and the figure skaters in the Saddle-dome. The most spectacular show of the Calgary Games will take place in the air above the 70-and 90-meter ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park when Finland's Matti Nykänen takes flight (at right). Forget about the other jumpers, too. It's going to be Matti all the way. They used to call him Nukes, short for his last name, but he has a new nickname now: U.F.O. That's short for unbeatable flying object.
Nykänen, who won the world junior championship seven years ago at age 17, has long been known as a born jumper, a reckless daredevil, an angry young man with a baby face who vented his bad temper on coaches, teammates and journalists. He won a gold and a silver medal at the '84 Games, but last year his chances for another successful Olympics seemed to vanish in a mire of personal problems. He was drinking heavily; he was sent home in the middle of the season for lack of discipline; he ran into trouble with Finnish police for breaking down a door. He also had a bad knee that hurt most of the time. But in the last few months Nykänen has come back strongly.
Last summer he had two knee operations and turned 24. His wife, Tiina, gave birth to their second child, a son. He gave up drinking and trained diligently. He even gave up temper tantrums. He is still as taciturn as ever, but his coach. Matti Pulli, says. "He is calmer now and more responsible."
But that doesn't mean Nykänen has turned into a pussycat on the jump. As this season got under way, he won six of the first seven competitions he entered, placing second in the event he didn't win. Even Austria's coach. Paul Ganzenhuber, admits, "I did not think it was possible to be so superior."
In the cross-country races, the Swedish men should win every event. Gunde Svan (at left), who is back on track after a respiratory illness sidelined him during the second half of last season, could take four medals. In the women's races, Marjo Matikainen of Finland is a favorite in the classical races, while the Soviet women have concentrated on training for the skating, or freestyle, events. Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen of Finland, who won all three individual races in the '84 Games, is back from maternity leave and favored to win a medal, and so is her husband. Harri Kirvesniemi (page 212).
Kerry Lynch of the U.S. would have been a medal candidate in the Nordic combined (an event with both cross-country and jumping), but he has been shaken by the prospect of being stripped of the silver medal he won at the '87 world championships after he admitted to blood doping, which is rumored to be a common practice among Nordic skiers. (In blood doping, an athlete adds blood—or just red blood cells—to his or her system to boost its oxygen-carrying capability and thereby increase endurance.) The question for these Games is: If Lynch is permitted to compete in Calgary, will he have enough confidence in his ability to compete well without resorting to illegal tricks?
America's only hope for a Nordic medal is biathlete Josh Thompson (page 220). He won the silver medal in the 20-kilometer race at the world championships last year and, according to his coach. Norwegian-born Sigvart Bjontegaard, Thomas has improved since then. East Germany's Frank-Peter Roetsch won gold in all three biathlon events at the '87 world championships, but he may not be as hungry as Thompson, who, says Bjontegaard, "has only one thing on his mind—a gold medal."