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Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Olympic champ Mika Myllyla dies at 41

Associated Press

HELSINKI -- Mika Myllyla, a former Olympic cross-country champion and Finnish skiing great whose life unraveled after a doping ban in 2001, died Tuesday. He was 41.

Police declined to give details except to say no crime was involved. National broadcaster YLE said he was found dead in his apartment in the northwest town of Kokkola.

Myllyla won six Olympic medals, including gold in the classical 30-kilometer race at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. He won a silver in the 50-kilometer race in the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and shared four bronzes over both Olympics.

He was a four-time winner at the world championships, including his starring performance in capturing three golds and a silver at the 1999 tournament at Ramsau, Austria.

Myllyla's career, however, was interrupted for two years after his positive test at the 2001 worlds, with five other Finnish skiers also receiving the same ban. He made a comeback but failed to qualify again for Finland's team and retired in 2005.

Despite his tearful apology in 2001 for doping, many still consider him one of Finland's finest cross-country skiers.

"In my eyes, he was a great athlete," former Norwegian skier Erling Jevne told national broadcaster NRK. "I think he would have been a top athlete without that kind of help."

After the ban, Myllyla briefly attempted a career as a real estate agent. But he battled alcoholism and was convicted of aggravated drunken driving in 2008, drawing a three-month suspended sentence. He was also convicted of three assaults, and was again caught driving drunk in 2010.

"It was turbulent when he struggled to find a mission in life after the cross-country career," former Norwegian cross country skier Torgeir Bjoern told NRK. "He struggled privately with both alcohol problems and several other things. I thought maybe he had found a way out of the problems and was on his way back to find a meaningful life, but unfortunately it didn't work out."

Myllyla was born in 1969 in the northern town of Oulu. He rose into the top ranks of Finnish skiing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, participating in his first World Cup race in 1991.

He was known for his unwavering stamina and unconventional training methods, such as summer training in swamps.

Alexander Stubb, Finland's minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, said on Twitter that Myllyla was "one of our greatest cross-country skiers of all time."

Myllyla is survived by three children and ex-wife Suvi, whom he divorced in 2007.