Petter Northug, Norway’s “bad boy” at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, finally won an Olympic gold medal, acknowledged instead of snubbing his fellow athletes, and even talked to reporters afterwards.
Heavily favoured to win several of the cross-country skiing events, Northug instead performed poorly (even placing a lowly 41st in the Men’s 15-kilometer freestyle), but it was his lack of sportsmanship that irritated sports officials, his rivals, journalists and fans.
He was so disappointed by his poor early placements that he refused any comment, failed to congratulate his competitors who won, and basically behaved like a sore loser. Norwegian newspapers on Monday were full of scolding columns, accusing Northug of being unprofessional and egotistical. Even former Norwegian champions like Bjørn Dæhlie and Thomas Alsgård chided him, with Dæhlie telling NRK Trøndelag that Northug needed to learn to tolerate downturns, and Alsgård commenting that team leaders needed to straighten him up.
Everything changed Monday night, when Northug ran a brilliant race in the Men’s Team Sprint Freestyle. Together with teammate Øystein Pettersen, the two beat Germany and Russia, with Northug as anchor pouring on the power and speed in crucial moments.
For quite a while, Norway was running fourth, and commentators then got excited when it looked like they’d clinch third place. Suddenly, on the uphill climb into the stadium area, Northug swung to the left, charged forward and passed both leaders, sailing over the finish line first by a good margin. He was met by Pettersen and the two collapsed on the snow in a giant bear hug.
The victory by Northug and Pettersen brought Norway’s medal count to 14, including six gold medals, second only the US and Germany. Commentators expect more, speculating that Northug has “found his form” and now seems likely to do well at remaining Olympic events.