Cross-country skier Petter Northug kept his head down and refused to talk to reporters when he arrived back in Norway after the latest World Cup weekend. He continues to face a storm of criticism over another display of poor sportsmanship.
Joining the chorus of critics was Norwegian skiing legend Vegard Ulvang, who told newspaper Adresseavisen that it was “high time” someone disciplined Northug, who’s gained a reputation for being what the Norwegians call a bortskjemt drittunge (spoiled brat).
Ulvang said that Northug’s failure to show up on time for a flower ceremony over the weekend was “the worst thing an athlete can do. It’s very important to congratulate the winner.” Northug, who placed second in the 30-kilometer classic and lost to Russian skier Maxim Vylegzhanin, instead kept Vylegzhanin and third-place winner Alexander Legkov waiting for nearly 15 minutes.
Northug had complained about the race course, but Ulvang said the Russian’s victory was “well deserved” and Northug shouldn’t make excuses. “The Norwegians just have to accept that the Russians were the best,” said Ulvang, who leads the cross-country committee for the international skiing federation FIS. “It’s embarrassing to be Norwegian when you see something like this.”
Ulvang’s criticism followed similar harsh words from another former Norwegian skiing star, Thomas Alsgaard, and initially the Norwegian skiing bureaucrats tried to blow them both off. “Vegard Ulvang lets himself be steered by the media,” claimed national team leader Åge Skinstad. Neither Skinstad nor other coaches were willing to criticize Northug’s behavior, on the contrary, they blamed the incident on the FIS and said they’ll challenge a disciplinary fine issued by the FIS.
By Tuesday, though, they had changed their minds, not least after an inquiry from sponsors. Industrial firm Aker took contact with the Norwegian skiing federation to get their side of the story, but clearly were unhappy even though Aker officials seemed more willing to blame Northug’s handlers than Northug himself. Other athletic sponsors, though, called Northug’s failure to show up on time for the ceremony “completely unacceptable” and noted that no sponsor wants to see that sort of thing happen.
John Northug, the young skier’s father and manager, also could see that his son was getting a long of criticism, also from the public at large, and that his popularity was suffering. “It’s very sad that this happened,” the elder Northug said, but he added that his son wasn’t entirely to blame. Sverre Seeberg, president of the ski federation, called the incident “unfortunate” for the federation’s reputation, but that he thought “everyone has learned something from this.”