CALGARY -- Ski jumping tends to be a sport for eccentrics. Those who are extremely extroverted or introverted, those who seek thrills or solitude in flight, have found a home here. It's Def Leppard or Bach fuges for these guys. So, perhaps, it's fitting that two of the most perplexing athletes at these Winter Games -- Matti (Nukes) Nykanen, the Flying Finn, and Eddy Edwards, The Eagle -- both set records today. Best ever. Worst ever.
The shy, private, almost delicate Nykanen, an often troubled man who finds his expression in the sky, won his second gold medal with the longest jump ever at Canada Olympic Park -- 118.5 meters.
Nobody ever floated better than the great Nykanen did Tuesday, adding the 90-meter medal to his 70-meter gold. No one had ever won both ski jumps in the same Olympics. His 118.5-meter ride on his first jump broke the hill mark by three full meters and brought gasps from a vast crowd of 80,000 who gathered at the bowl's bottom.
Nykanen's final leap of 108 meters to close the competition was a formality as he demolished his closest foe, Erik Johnsen of Norway, by 16.1 points (224.0 to 207.9). Bronze medalist Matjaz Debelak of Yugoslavia finished almost two points back. Nykanen's margin of superiority over his generation, like his 17-point win at 70 meters, will stand as the permanent testament to his unique gifts long after new equipment and techniques erase his record distance marks.
Afterward, his voice deep and slow, his gestures calm and self-possessed, Nykanen gave what is, for him, a long speach. "I am really happy to win both hills," he said through an interpreter. "I trained quite hard . . . I have plans to continue jumping until 1992 . . . Another Olympics is quite possible . . .
"I am very proud."
Ingmar Bergman would love Nykanen, with his wispy blond hair, short everywhere, then long in the back. On a mountain top with his goggles in place, he looks like "Willard," the horror-movie boy whose friends were rodents. At the bottom of the hill, he seems more like a handsome, hidden-depths leading man.
Nykanen is often called the John McEnroe of Europe for his temperamental demands. His first "nuke" in victory was to announce that he would stop ski-flying (not ski jumping) until officials made that relatively new sport's rules conform to his liking. While a certified prima donna, Nykanen still manages to be haughty without McEnroe's petulance.
Coming here, few disputed that the slim but broad-shouldered 132-pound Nykanen was the best sky rider in history -- a human paper airplane. His gold medal at 90 meters and his silver at 70 meters introduced him to the world outside Finland at the Sarajevo Games.
Since then, he's won world titles, trashed discos, been kicked off his national team several times, alienated or insulted almost everyone on his team or in his sport, admitted a drinking problem, gone through rehabilitation, married a fashion model, become a father, cleaned up his act and, for the moment, made himself as close to unbeatable as any athlete in any sport in the world.
"It has been like that the whole winter," said Finland's coach Matti Pulli. "When he is in good condition, he always jumps like that. But, in this sport, you very easily lose your condition."
Will Nykanen hold his condition, or dissipate it, as he has before? That is Question No. 1 in his subculture. Pulli thinks he will hold it, because of the little boy. "Sure, sure, changing diapers," says Pulli. "He has something other than ski jumping in his life now."
The contrast between Nykanen and the cameratropic Edwards was so total this evening -- Nykanen fleeing and Edwards mugging -- as to be almost disorienting. Nykanen makes space around himself, daunting even his coach, who says, "He is the greatest ever . . . Did I speak to him today? Oh, no, no." Who would dare speak to Nykanen unless he spoke first?
Eddy the Eagle -- or Beagle, as you will -- destroys all distance. The worst Olympic ski jumper in history, by as large a margin as he can manage, is your goofy uncle with the thick glasses, big chin, no lips, silly mustache, baggy pants and the lampshade on his head.
People have always laughed at him, so he has learned to turn the joke every which way, playing it however it works best for him at the moment. Dancing here with seven showgirls comes naturally to him; he takes whatever he gets as his due, as a sort of compensation for the indignity of being himself.
Many here are insulted by Edwards, whose distances -- 71 and 67 meters -- were essentially the same as those that would be achieved by giving a bowling ball a number.
"Canadian spectators need a lot of education," said Norwegian official Torbjorn Yggeseth, after hearing the crowd yell longer and louder for Edwards than any serious jumper. "We have thousands of Eddy Edwards in Norway and we never let them jump. Actually, he doesn't jump. He drops."
The giveaway on Edwards is that he insists he's serious. "In another four years, I'll be there," he said, straight-faced, today. The truth, as Rob McCormack, chief of competition here, reluctantly admits, is that even Canada has "11-year-olds training at Thunder Bay who jump further than Eddy."
Perhaps Edwards started ski jumping as a lark, but he's quickly turning into a bit of a shark. Though he is not a fraud, he's becoming an opportunist. Book and movie to come. Some see his instant fame as a complex sociological phenomenon. Others suspect the media pursues him with all the sophisticated motives of Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donohue and Geraldo Rivera fighting over a divorced transsexual mother with seven arms.
"I am not against him," said Nykanen of Edwards. "We need some clowns in this business."
No king ever lacked for jesters. And a fool who found a way to live in the castle has never been considered dumb.