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All right, then. What of the 90- and 70-meter jumps at Sarajevo?
He shrugs with a certain touch of scorn. "Quite ordinary," he says.
Nykänen is puzzled at first, then bitterly amused by a spirited discussion about his unique, make-it-up-as-you-fly style of jumping. An expert for Helsingin Sanomat, Finland's largest morning paper, once noted that Nykänen "boldly forced his jumps...it is not a style that strikes the eye." Everybody in the group has a run at translating this, and then: "It's this," Nykänen says, as if explaining it to a roomful of dolts. "The takeoff is everything. But then, umm, but then, at about 20 or 30 meters out into the air, I can feel it—how it's going to go. I can tell in that instant how the jump will come out, and if I've started it badly, well, I just simply pull it all together."
Hastings has referred to ski jumping as the world's last surviving seat-of-the-pants sport, and Nukes gets that analogy even as the interpreter speaks. "It is two feelings," he says. "You are up there and you get a feeling of flying and gliding, both." He grows sour again. "If it wasn't nice, I wouldn't do it." And he angrily kicks one wooden clog across the room, bouncing it off the far wall. Halonen and Pulli pretend not to have seen it.
Then comes his final outburst and, with it, the explanation that Halonen had promised earlier in the day: "My nerves are all right," says Nykänen. "But I'm getting a growing fighting feeling. I'm mad. No, no, I'm not mad at you, but I'm mad and I'll stay that way. I must."
And that's it, of course. The room falls silent; Nykänen jumps up and stamps out, muttering to himself about idiots from the U.S. and stupid questions.
Halonen explains further: "This is what I'd call a half-secret," he says. "We don't use drugs, of course—no drug can produce this effect. But it is our training system for the Olympics to make our jumpers nervous." He pauses, wondering if that's the right word in English. One suspects the word he wants is mean. Halonen spreads out both hands in a broad shrug. "It just happens that Matti has become nervous about two weeks ahead of everybody else on the team."
And Pulli adds the clincher: "You must understand that Matti has always been a strange boy," he says. "But just consider this: There are many, many ski jumpers who are thoroughly charming. I mean, they are nice to talk to and sweet. Ah, but when that one time comes when everything is at stake—when you need someone to make the one jump that will win the championship—they can't do it. So much for being charming, Matti can make that jump."