Norwegian athletes aren’t only warming up for the Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo (Ski VM 2011) later this month. They’re also being given extensive media coaching, while debate flies over glaring examples of potential conflicts of interest on the ski trails and the air waves.
The Norwegian media have featured several stories this week about skiing stars and media issues. Cross country queen Marit Bjørgen is among those being advised on how to best express themselves after crossing the finish line. Words like “crazy, schizophrenic, paranoid, tragic and terrorized” have often been used by athletes when describing happiness, toughness, defective equipment and winning strategies, and they sometimes cause offense.
“There’s no list of forbidden words which athletes are not allowed to use,” Hallvor Lea, media coach for Norway’s top athletes, told newspaper Aftenposten. “They can talk tough, but it’s important that they don’t hurt other people’s feelings or say things they’ll regret later.”
Three major events will be taking place in the coming weeks: The Alpine World Ski Championships, the Nordic World Ski Championships (in Oslo) and the Biathlon World Championships. The media and the pundits will be looking out for what they consider inappropriate and unfortunate talk by the competitors.
Cross country ace, Petter Northug, is among the most outspoken of the media’s favourites. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he also receives praise for his imaginative turns of phrase. Describing a recent race as akin to a children’s ski race, or “barneskirenn,” he succinctly told Norwegian audiences how little he felt threatened by the other competitors.
Northug has been in the news for yet another reason this week. The prospect of his girlfriend Rachel Nordtømme working for the television station TV2 during the Nordic World Championships (Ski VM 2011) caused concern about conflicts of interest that could jeopardize the impartiality of the coverage. Northug’s own media adviser suddenly claimed she wouldn’t be working for TV2 after all, much to her surprise. After quite a bit of media fuss, she’ll now be starting at TV2 after Ski VM 2011 is over.
On a similar note, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) is also being criticized because five-time Olympic cross country gold medal winner Thomas Alsgaard both participated in last weekend’s Norwegian Championships and worked as a commentator covering the same event. Other media commentators were calling for clearer lines of distinction between athletes and journalists.