Petter Northug, Norway’s former skiing star who’s been attempting another comeback after lots of trouble a few years ago, has been summarily dumped from the Norwegian men’s team who’ll take part in the final events of the World Cup season in Quebec, Canada this weekend. Experts were surprised that Northug, who’s been on the rebound in recent weeks, wasn’t deemed worthy of being part of Norway’s 10-man team.
“I think this is a completely wrong decision,” Fredrik Aukland, a former top skier himself who now serves as state broadcaster NRK’s cross-country expert and commentator. “Petter Northug is a candidate to win at the finals in Canada, both in regards to the trails there and how his form has developed. I am very surprised that he’s not being included.”
It wasn’t too long ago that Northug was Norway’s undisputed skiing champ who won multiple gold medals at the World Cup, the World Championships and the Olympics. He was also known as the “bad boy” of skiing, though, because of his occasional flippancy, poor behaviour, conflicts with the national skiing federation (Norges Skiforfund) over sponsorships and, ultimately a drunk-driving offense after his results declined.
Speculation flew over his future after his drunk-driving crash in 2014 but since then, he’s stayed sober and worked hard to get back on top, winning gold and fans’ hearts again during international competition just a year later. His results have since been spotty, but the veteran champ placed an impressive 8th in the 50-kilometer race during World Cup competition at Holmenkollen in Oslo over the weekend, and 5th in the World Cup sprint on Thursday in Drammen. That apparently wasn’t good enough for a spot on the men’s team that will compete in the final events of the season.
Stig Rune Kveen, Northug’s coach, said neither he nor Northug himself was given any reason for being dropped. “There must be an athletic reason, but from our standpoint, we think it’s very surprising given his development just in the past few weeks,” Kveen told NRK. “And he’s very well-suited to the events in Quebec.”
Northug has, however, unleashed a few verbal attacks on the head of Norway’s cross-country ski team, Vidar Løfshus. He’s not alone in being critical of the national ski federation’s management after a year characterized by two major doping scandals and questionable systems for handling medication. Løfshus denied that the decision to exclude Northug from the World Cup final had anything to do with Northug’s public criticism.
“No, there are no politics in this decision,” Løfshus told NRK. “We have chosen to choose team members based on their performance during a long season. For the guys, we’ve chosen skiers who have performed well from the start of the season until now, who are still in good shape and who rank very high in the World Cup rankings.”
Northug himself couldn’t understand the decision to drop him. “He thinks it’s very strange that he’s not part of the 10-man team to Canada,” Kveen said. “He was very keen to go. This is frustrating.”