Ski champ dabbles in soccer

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Petter Northug, Norway’s cross-country skiing star, spent some time on a football field this week, but has no intention of shifting sports. Athletics officials wish, though, that he’d shift out some of his hobbies.

Men's distance World Cup 2009-2010

Northug played in an exhibition match in Trondheim against veteran players for local club Rosenborg. As Northug himself told reporters when it was all over, “we did a lot of running, while they played football.”

He and his team from the sports club in Mosvik lost against the Rosenborg Old Boys by a score of 4-1. They were up against former soccer stars like Erik Hoftun, Mini Jacobsen and Sverre Brandhaug.

Northug is in the midst of a break of sorts, after winning the World Cup (photo) and mining Olympic gold in Vancouver. There’s been some concerns that playing football can boost his risk of injury, but neither Northug nor his supporters seemed worried about that.

“In the month of May, anything is allowed,” Northug’s mentor Hallgeir Marting Lundemo told newspaper  Dagsavisen. “Then he can play football (soccer).”

He’s also been playing poker, and that hasn’t pleased officials at Norway’s athletics association (Norges Idrettsforbundet). They don’t think high-stakes poker playing in Monte Carlo and Las Vegas, where Northug is also spending time this spring, is appropriate for a so-called role model of Northug’s stature.

“It can be a dilemma when Northug one day shows up at a charity arrangement for children, and the next day is playing poker abroad,” athletics boss Inge Andersen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently. His organization has asked Northug to distance himself from the poker tables.

The request is ironic, since Norwegian sports organizations receive much of their revenues from Norway’s state-regulated lottery, Norsk Tipping. Andersen claimed, though, that buying lottery tickets doesn’t carry the same gambling risks, either for losing money or for being addictive, as poker can. He admitted, though, that athletes are people who enjoy a good game.

“They will likely continue to keep playing, Petter also,” he said.

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