Norway could claim another “World Champion” on Sunday, after Petter Northug sought revenge in the men’s 30-kilometer pursuit and got it. Northug, the most controversial member of Norway’s ski team, placed first ahead of two Russian rivals and well ahead of his Swedish competition.
Sweden’s Marcus Hellner had beaten Northug to the gold in the men’s opening event at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships on Thursday, and Northug, who won silver in the men’s sprint, had vowed to come back strong on Sunday. “Today I got my revenge,” Northug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It feels fantastic to stand here, and to have succeeded.”
His victory in the tough race, which involved two segments of 15 kilometers each with a change of skis and styles, was especially sweet given the enthusiastic and patriotic hometown crowds at Holmenkollen. The grandstands were packed and full of waving Norwegian flags, after organizers did a better job than they had on Saturday on getting spectators up to the arenas from downtown on public transport. And most of Norway’s royal family was in their special box, waving and cheering along with everyone else.
Observers generally agreed Northug ran a “perfect” race, covering the 30 kilometers (18 miles) in just one hour, 14 minutes and 10 seconds. Right behind him was Maxim Vylegzhanin of Russia, followed closely by Ilja Tsjernousov, who would join Northug on the winners’ platform and win cheers as well.
Hellner was sixth, even though he’d also been a hot medal contender. After taking on the winner’s gold jacket, Northug told NRK that “this was the big dream,” to win at Holmenkollen.
He also claimed he’d never had such a good start in championship competition, first getting a silver and then a gold in the first two events. His female counterpart Marit Bjørgen, though, has managed two golds.
After enjoying the roars from the crowd and accepting the flower bouquets given to the winners, Northug headed up to the royal box where he was congratulated by King Harald and Crown Prince Haakon and even got hugs from Queen Sonja, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Princess Martha Louise.
Northug has been known as Norway’s bad boy of skiing, following some unsportsmanlike episodes, but he’s far from alone in behaving badly on the ski trails. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) ran a story over the weekend detailing how some of the great names of skiing could be tricky and brutal. Vegard Ulvang, for example, admitted that he’d once stolen a rival’s drinks during a 50-kilometer race at Holmenkollen, Bjørn Dæhlie was beaten up by another skier in Italy, and Tor Håkon Holte got into a tussle with Vladimir Smirnov.
Northug, meanwhile, will be back in action on Tuesday, for the men’s 15-kilometer classic at 1pm, followed by the team sprint on Wednesday, the men’s relay on Friday and the gruelling 50-kilometer race on Sunday.