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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Skier Northug feels alone at the top

UPDATED: Petter Northug, Norway’s sometimes badly behaved skiing sensation, had claimed he was ready for the country’s traditional launch of the skiing season at Beitostølen over the weekend and looked even more forward to next weekend’s World Cup opener at Gällivare in Sweden. He didn’t do as well, though, as either he or his fans expected.

Petter Northug was in his prime at the Nordic Skiing World Championships in Oslo two winters ago and has great expectations for the upcoming season as well. PHOTO: Tore Afdal/Ski VM

Northug ended up a lowly 24th in Sunday’s 15-kilometer race for men and collided with another skier in heavy snowfall on Saturday. He wasn’t joking when he said he probably should ask for some technical advice from the weekend’s reigning ski queen Therese Johaug, who did well in both long-distance and sprint events at Beitostølen.

Northug handily won on Friday, though, and few doubt that he’s out of form. He claimed he wanted others to share the spotlight.

“I wish the attention could be shared a bit more, that the others on the team could also get more of it,” Northug told reporters at a pre-weekend press conference. His message was clear: It’s a bit lonesome at the top. The 26-year-old skier from Nord-Trøndelag has won both Olympic and World Championship gold in recent years, and aims to win both the Tour de Ski and the World Championships in Val di Fiemme this year.

Northug otherwise seemed his customarily confident, somewhat surly self, making jabs at his Swedish rivals and not smiling much. He’s also just been through a spell of tummy trouble after getting hit with a virus that hit both men and women on the Norwegian team during a training session in the mountains of southern Europe earlier this month. He and Norway’s top skier on the women’s cross-country team, Marit Bjørgen, were among those sent home and not allowed to train until they recovered.

The stomach ailment “kept me out of training for four to five days,” Northug confirmed, but he claimed to feel fine and planned to ski in all the races at Beitostølen, located in the Norwegian mountains north of Fagernes.

“That’s the plan if my body responds the way it should,” he said. “The races will be some tough practice. Then I can get ready for the World Cup opening next weekend. Because right now, I’m really hungry to compete, and I’m already looking forward to next weekend.”

Northug, both loved and hated in Sweden, was the target of threats when he competed in Sweden last year, and had police protection in Stockholm, for example. He said he doesn’t think it will be necessary in Gällivare: “It’s such a small place with so few spectators. And it’s seldom I get threats.”

Even though he’s stirred controversy over the years, which he claims isn’t the result of any conscious effort, he was recently ranked as Norway’s third most popular athlete after Bjørgen and skier Therese Johaug. He seemed surprised by that:

“I was prepared to be the most hated,” he told reporters.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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