Norwegian skiing star Petter Northug won’t be participating in the next cross-country competition for men on Tuesday at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (Ski-VM). Northug broke down in tears just after winning Sunday’s 30-kilometer race, and his coaches want him to save his strength.
“Given the total burden here and that we want to do well in both the 50-kilometer race (on Sunday) and the relay (on Friday), it wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” the Norwegian men’s skiing coach Morten Aa Djupvik told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Northug was thus told to drop the men’s 15-kilometer classic on Tuesday. He’ll be replaced on the Norwegian men’s team by reserve skier Petter Eliassen, who will join Eldar Rønning, Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Sjur Røthe. Johnsrud Sundby finished an impressive 5th in Sunday’s tough 30-kilometer event.
Sobbing on the sidelines
Djupvik claimed that Northug himself wanted to participate in the 15K race, but his coaches want to keep him healthy and strong for what they consider “more important” races and those where Northug would have the best chance of winning more medals.
Northug, meanwhile, appeared to suffer a near breakdown, however briefly, just after he crossed the finish line on Sunday. He collapsed along the sidelines and remained lying on the snow, even after Djupvik and medical personnel arrived to check on his condition.
NRK had equipped Djupvik with a microphone, which ended up recording unique proof of just how exhausted even top athletes can be after running 30 kilometers (18 kilometer) on skis in just one hour and 14 minutes. Experienced skiers routinely use three hours or more to cover the same distance, while amateur racers in good shape likely would need at least double Northug’s time.
Northug himself was so exhausted that he was shaking and sobbing what appeared to be uncontrollably. He also said he was dizzy. It wasn’t until Djupvik yelled at him “Yes! Yes!” and virtually screamed that “you couldn’t have been better” that Northug seemed to recover slightly, but he kept sobbing.
It wasn’t clear whether he was crying for joy or in pain, experts speculated a bit of both was involved, but Djupvik told him firmly that “now you can enjoy this, get up now.” Northug complied and used his ski poles to raise himself up, with a blanket over his shoulders.
Still feeling a need to confirm contact with Northug, Djupvik yelled “are you there?” Northug replied he was dizzy. “You know how this went?” yelled Djupvik again.
And then Northug responded by casting his arms around Djupvik’s neck and continued to sob, until he regained control, dried his tears, accepted congratulations from one of his fellow medal winners from Russia and then the roar of the crowd at Holmenkollen. Within minutes, Northug was his old self, sauntering around and raising clenched fists and even blowing a kiss at the grandstands.
Northug also allowed his emotions to show during the medals ceremony later on Sunday evening, when tears welled up in his eyes as thousands chanted his name in downtown Oslo. Then he could listen to the Norwegian national anthem being played as his country’s flag was raised.
See NRK’s unique video of Northug and his coach just after his victorious race here (external link, in Norwegian).