Skier’s star fades over bad behavior

Petter Northug is still considered Norway’s top cross-country skier, but his tendency to display unsportsmanlike behavior is now even upsetting ardent sports fans. He sparked new controversy at a World Cup event over the weekend, along with a nationally televised rebuke from for a former skiing star.

LA CLUSAZ, FRANCE - DECEMBER 18: (FRANCE OUT) Maxim Vylegzhanin of Russia takes 1st place, Petter jr. Northug of Norway takes 2nd place, Alexander Legkov of Russia takes 3rd place during the FIS Cross-Country World Cup Men's 30 km Mass Start on December 18, 2010 in La Clusaz, France. (Photo by Vianney Thibaut/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

Northug landed in trouble with the international skiing federation FIS, after failing to turn up on time for an awards ceremony following Saturday’s 30-kilometer race. Northug placed second, and not only kept his fellow skiers waiting but didn’t wear his obligatory start number showing FIS sponsors either.

(See a video clip of the episode on Norwegian Broadcasting here – external link. PICAPP PHOTO AT RIGHT: Northug finally on the winners’ platform, late and without his start number.)

FIS officials were so irritated with Northug that they claimed they will cut his winner’s earnings by 10 percent. “It’s not the money, but the principle,” FIS race director Jürg Capol told NRK.

LA CLUSAZ, FRANCE - DECEMBER 18: (FRANCE OUT) Maxim Vylegzhanin of Russia takes 1st place, Petter jr. Northug of Norway takes 2nd place, Alexander Legkov of Russia takes 3rd place during the FIS Cross-Country World Cup Men's 30 km Mass Start on December 18, 2010 in La Clusaz, France. (Photo by Vianney Thibaut/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

Northug’s two Russian competitors both managed to show up on time, and properly attired, and then had to wait for the young Norwegian whom even many Norwegians are now referring to as a “bortskjemt drittunge” (spoiled brat). He was widely viewed as a poor sport when he performed badly during last winter’s Olympics, and new lively online commentary followed NRK’s coverage of Saturday’s incident. The vast majority of skiing fans writing in suggested Northug is unprofessional and hurting the image of Norwegian athletes, allegedly because he’s used to getting his way and none of the skiing officials and staff around him dares to cross him.

One former Norwegian skiing start did just that, though, and on national TV. Thomas Alsgaard, a former Olympic gold medalist and World Champion, told NRK that it seems Norway’s national ski officials are “protecting” Northug and failing to teach him how to be a better sport.

“He gets to do what he wants all the time, and that can be dangerous in the long term,” Alsgaard said. “Someone needs to get a grip on this, and put him in his place. The team leadership needs to make it clear for Northug that certain behavior can’t be accepted and that’s it, but there isn’t anyone who has dared to do so to date.”

Norwegian skiing officials indeed showed little regret after Saturday’s ceremony incident, and refused to take any of the blame. Vidar Løfshus, sports leader for the male skiers, opted to criticize the FIS instead.

“For one thing, it’s the FIS’ responsibility to say when the flower ceremony will begin,” Løfshus told NRK. “Second, we have demanded again and again that the skiers have a changing room at the finish line. Third, it’s the FIS’ responsibility to give the skiers the correct commercial clothing (start number featuring FIS sponsors) for the flower ceremony.” Løfshus seemed to think Northug’s health was in danger, which apparently is why he holed up in a waxing booth after the race, and then was late for the ceremony.

Nor would the men’s ski coach, Morten Aa Djupvik, admit that Northug gets special treatment, or that his managers are too easy on him. “We wanted of course for Petter to get to the ceremony on time, but he was both cold and exhausted and needed a little more time to come out,” he said.

Capol of the FIS rejected the criticism, noting that all the other athletes managed to show up on time, just not Northug. So did the hundreds of sports fans writing in to NRK.no, with many of them expressing as much disgust with the men’s skiing officials as with Northug.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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