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Northug set to ski out of sight

Petter Northug, Norway’s bad-boy of skiing, just wrapped up a lengthy conflict over a controversial sponsor and now intends to try to avoid media attention as he enters an intensive pre-season training regimen. One thing is clear: He’ll be back.

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Last season’s World Cup winner (photo) set off a sponsorship drama last year when news broke that he’d signed a personal deal with the so-called “energy drink” known as Red Bull. The drink was banned in Norway until early last year, because of health concerns, and sports officials were not pleased. Tove Paule, president of Norway’s athletics association, called the deal “ethically unfortunate.”

But Northug persisted in fronting the drink, in return for financial support, and extended his deal through 2014. But then Red Bull wanted Northug to give their product exposure in World Cup events that violated international ski federation (FIS) rules. Northug’s manager-father threatened that if Petter didn’t get his way, he might lose his motivation along with several hundred thousand kroner.

“Red Bull is a very important motivational factor for Petter,” John Northug told newspaper Adresseavisen recently. “He likes profiling the product. It has high status and does something to him as an athlete. It’s far more than the economic side of this that means something.”

Red Bull is known for only negotiating with “the best” athletes, and in Norway, only Petter Northug and downhill racer Aksel Lund Svindal have deals with the beverage maker.

Negotiations between its officials, ski association bureaucrats and Northug went on for weeks and ended with cross-country skiing chief Åge Skinstad agreeing that Red Bull will be an official supplier for the entire team. Skinstad wouldn’t disclose financial terms, but told Adresseavisen that “we have agreed a normal ‘ski pool deal’ that involves fees and deliveries.”

It also will allow Northug to drink from a Red Bull bottle after a race, and also after he first has taken a gulp of the ski association’s main partner’s product, probably Norwegian dairy Tine’s drink called “Yt.”

Paule, who didn’t like the Red Bull sponsorship, wouldn’t comment on the deal, claiming that the ski association “is an independent organization.”

Northug, meanwhile, can now concentrate on his skiing after the off-season lull. He took a round with Norwegian reporters at a training camp in the Italian alps over the weekend but then told newspaper Aftenposten that “now I probably won’t show up before (the season opener at) Beitostølen” in November.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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