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Throwback: Flying Finn Nieminen becomes Winter Games golden boy in Albertville

Toni Nieminen from Finland skiing down the ramp during the team large hill 120m ski jump competition on 14 February 1992 at the XVI Olympic Winter Games in Courchevel, Albertville, France. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images)

Flying without a license


February 16th, 1992

Toni Nieminen might have been too young to drive, but he certainly was not too young to fly.

When the Finnish ski jumper arrived at the Olympic Winter Games Albertville 1992, he was only 16 years old and in his first year of international competition.

But thanks to his new v-shape technique (ski jumpers had previously soared with parallel skis) he had already made a big impact.

A few days before the long hill event, Nieminen became the youngest male gold medallist in Winter Games history as part of the Finnish group that won the team title. He followed that up with bronze on the short hill.

His zenith came on the long hill on February 16 though. With his blonde hair flapping beneath his helmet as he flew through the sky, Nieminen dominated in Courchevel.

He posted the two biggest jumps from the 120-metre hill – one of 400 feet and three inches (122m), and another of 403 feet and six inches (122.99m).

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At 16 years and 261 days, the native of Lahti in Finland became the youngest gold medallist ever in an individual event at a Winter Games. Two Austrians were alongside him on the podium – Martin Hollwarth in silver and Heinz Kuttin in bronze.


Being famous has its perks

In Finland, ski jumpers enjoy the celebrity that Premier League footballers now do in the UK. When Nieminen returned home, he was swamped by hordes of young fans at the airport.

A sponsor rewarded him with a sports car and he was given special dispensation to drive it to and from training, even though the minimum driving age in his homeland was 18.

Perhaps the celebrity and early notoriety affected him, because the teenager failed to even make the Finnish team for the following Olympic Games.

He recovered though and recorded a world record in 1994. Nieminen competed until 2004 and even enjoyed a brief comeback in 2016.


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