Petter Northug’s antics as he raced for the finish line at Friday’s men’s relay in the world championships have set off a storm of protest in Sweden, where some called him a “pig” and others claimed he lacked all respect for his competitors. The man he actually beat, though, shrugged it all off and Northug otherwise was on relatively good behaviour.
Northug has a bad reputation for being arrogant when he wins and surly when he loses. On Friday, though, he bowed to his screaming fans, took lots of time to greet fans and sign autographs, and led an impromptu winners’ jogging tour around the arena at Holmenkollen in Oslo to make sure even spectators in the grandstands on the other side of the winners’ podium got to see and applaud the Norwegian gold medal holders.
Protests raged all afternoon, though, after Northug, who ran the last winning lap of the men’s relay at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo, made some teasing gestures to the grandstands and briefly seemed to block the finish line for his nearest rival, Marcus Hellner of Sweden.
While the Norwegian commentators claimed that Northug was merely “playing with audience and Hellner,” many Swedes saw it differently. Northug, railed one Swedish commentator, “is a wolf in the ski tracks and a pig at the finish line.” Anders Blomquist of Swedish Television (SVT) was also upset. “He’s such a good skier, he didn’t need to do that,” Blomquist said.
Daniel Nannskog, a Swedish football player who recently was a star of Norway’s own Stabækk football club, was also upset. “Northug is like a seven-year-old in a school yard,” Nannskog wrote on Twitter. “You should never degrade your opponents. That’s an old rule.”
Northug was the target of much criticism on Twitter and Facebook throughout Friday afternoon, but Hellner himself shrugged it all off. “That was just typical of Petter,” Hellner said, after losing the gold to Northug and his Norwegian team but winning silver.”It’s just his style.”
Northug’s coaches also tried to brush off the incident, saying Northug “just loves to tease the Swedes.” His stunt certainly didn’t turn off his Norwegian fans, with police in Oslo estimating that more than 100,000 people crammed the streets of downtown to watch Northug and his three teammates Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Eldar Rønning and Tord Asle Gjerdalen be presented with their gold medals.
Northug himself seemed amused by all the fuss. “Both nations (Norway and Sweden) were fighting for the gold over the last meters,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “When the Swedes react as they have, it means I’ve succeeded with what I’ve done.
“If they get sour, that’s just a double victory for me.”