Norway’s “bad boy” at the Winter Olympics ended two weeks of competition in a blaze of glory on Sunday. Petter Northug won the gold medal in arguably the toughest race of all, and suddenly emerged as what one commentator called “the best skier in the world.”
Northug, age 24, ran neck and neck against Axel Teichmann of Germany at the end of the gruelling Men’s 50-kilometer race on Sunday. Teichmann led by a few meters as they entered the arena, but in classic Northug style, the young Norwegian suddenly charged forward, edged ahead of Teichmann and crossed the finish line three-tenths of a second before Teichmann. Johan Olsson of Sweden placed third for the bronze medal.
It was Northug’s first gold medal in an individual event at the Olympics, a victory he called “the biggest boy’s dream that’s now come true.” He skied 50 kilometers in two hours, five minutes, 35.5 seconds, an impressive rate of speed on the last day of the Olympics in Vancouver.
After some major disappointments earlier in the Olympics, and sulky behavior that got him in trouble afterwards, everything seemed to click for Northug on Sunday. He told reporters after the 50-km race that “for me, it was all perfect.” His teammates agreed.
“I was never in doubt that this would be Petter’s day,” said Martin Johnsrud Sundby, who finished 15th. “He didn’t show a single sign of weakness.” Veteran Odd Bjørn Hjelmeset, who placed 17th, told newspaper Aftenposten that “we others just have to go home and train some more.”
Northug’s victory in the 50-km race brought Norway’s total medal haul up to 23, including nine gold. Canada won the most gold medals, at 14, after beating the US in ice hockey Sunday.
Canada, Germany and the US beat Norway in total medals, but Norway remains solidly at the top of the heap on a historic basis, with 306 medals since the Winter Olympics began. Ranking second is the US, with 256.