Northug losing his ‘lonely fight’

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Petter Northug was once the biggest star among those on Norway’s star-studded national ski teams but he won’t be appearing in this year’s marathon Tour de Ski that’s starting up in Germany this weekend. Norwegian coaches still didn’t think he’s in good enough shape to earn a spot on the team, and speculation is rising that he may not be chosen for the Olympics either.

Petter Northug, shown here at a press briefing just before he performed poorly at a World Cup event earlier this season, has not been having a good season. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Northug was picked as the first reserve skier for Tour de Ski, but no one else on the team was sick or unable to start on Saturday. That means there’s no need for Northug.

It’s the latest blow for Northug, decribed by newspaper Dagsavisen recently as caught in a “lonely fight” against Norwegian skiing officials and himself. The Norwegian coaches must have their reasons for not selecting Northug to ski in recent World Cup events. He was ill before the season opener and then performed poorly at the World Cup races he did qualify for in Lillehammer.

Commentators like Dagsavisen’s Reidar Sollie think Northug still has potential “of historic dimensions.” It was also important for Northug to participate in the Tour de Ski, not least for training purposes and to build up his strength.

It’s especially frustrating to miss the Tour de Ski when Norway’s current wonderboy, Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, was withdrawn to save his strength for the Olympics and the rest of the season. Nor is another top skier, Simen Hegstad Krüger, in the Tour de Ski, making it difficult for skiing experts to understand why Northug remains excluded.

“Petter Northug should have been selected for the Tour de Ski a long time ago,” claimed NRK’s cross-country skiing expert Fredrik Aukland. “He should be up in the alps and preparing himself, and get in top shape for the Olympics.” Aukland is among those who now think Northug will have trouble qualifying for Norway’s Olympic team: “I don’t think Petter will be able to be in the shape he could have been if had skied in World Cup races and up at high elevations.”

His absence is also a disappointment for German fans and Tour de Ski organizers. “This is worrisome,” said Peter Schlickenrieder of Germany’s ARD. “I would have put Petter Northug in the top division, because he’s one of the most important people in the sport.”

Pierre Mignerey of the international skiing federation FIS said he’ll also miss Northug in Tour de Ski: “This is an internal problem for the Norwegian team, but personally, I of course would have liked to see Northug here.”

Neither Northug nor his coach, Stig Rune Kveen, have said what Northug will do now. Head coach Vidar Løfshus told state broadcaster NRK that Northug should take part in the upcoming Scandinavian Cup in Piteå and at the Norwegian Championships in Gålå, and show he can perform well.

Several of the Norwegian men who are racing in Tour de Ski have suffered health problems this winter and performed below expectations. The eight chosen for Tour de Ski include Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Hans Christer Holund, Sjur Røthe, Didrik Tønseth, Finn-Hågen Krogh, Niklas Dyrhaug, Emil Iversen and Sindre Bjørnestad Skar.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund