While Norway’s cross-country skiing star Marit Bjørgen is off to a solid start this season, her male counterpart Petter Northug isn’t doing well at all. Now his aides worry that he may have fallen victim to over-training, illness and public pressure.
Northug (photo at right, during last winter’s Olympics) didn’t compete at the FIS Cross-Country World Cup season opener in Gällivare, Sweden over the weekend, and it was looking unlikely that he’d travel to Finland this coming weekend for the next series of events. He’s simply not in good shape, and reportedly trying to take it easy at home in Trøndelag.
Eirik Myhr Nossum, Northug’s top aide and best friend, told newspaper Adresseavisen on Tuesday that he doubts Northug will compete in events at Kuusamo. Weather forecasts of temperatures dipping down to minus-20C are another reason Northug may stay home.
“I don’t believe (Northug’s appearances at) the World Championships (to be held in Oslo in late February) are in danger, as long at Petter doesn’t stress too much,” Myhr Nossum told Adresseavisen. “I’m not nervous about that. The foundation is there.”
Nonetheless, Northug is showing some symptoms of over-training, said Myhr Nossum, who in addition to working with Northug studies sports biology at Norway’s top athletics college. “And if you don’t take the symptoms seriously, it can be very bad,” he said. “The combination of a lot of training, a lot of pressure at (the Norwegian season opener at) Beitostølen and some illness can be the reason (for Northug’s problem.”
Northug performed poorly at Beitostølen, so poorly that some competitors thought he was faking. The Olympic gold medalist who’s been favoured to win the World Championships for Norway this year retreated for the “time out” he’s now taking.
Myhr Nossum said Northug has resumed “easy” training sessions and is in relatively good humor. “I didn’t directly ask him what it was like to only watch the World Cup opener on TV, but I’m sure it made him want to ski,” he said. “He had been looking forward to Gällivare. It will just take him some time to make a comeback.”
Meanwhile, Norway’s female cross-country skiers are on a roll. Marit Bjørgen (photo at right) was generally viewed as totally out-classing her competitors at the World Cup opener that Northug missed, winning the 10-kilometer freestyle race by a full 41 seconds, her 38th victory in a World Cup event.
All told, Norwegian women accounted for six of the 11 best skiers on Saturday, and on Sunday, the Norwegian women’s team won the relay. Bjørgen, Therese Johaug, Vibeke Skofterud and Kristin Størmer Steira crushed their competition at Gällivare and now seem to be Norway’s best bet for gold at the World Championships.
That greatly pleased their coaches. “Winning individual gold is very good, but winning a relay means a lot for the whole team,” men’s coach Morten Aa Djupvik told newspaper Aftenposten. “On home turf, that would be the greatest.”