Petter Northug, Norway’s skiing sensation for the past few years, shook off a week of disappointments and won his first gold medal of this year’s Nordic World Ski Championships in Trentino/Val di Fiemme on Wednesday. He also won it in the one race that he, until now, hadn’t managed to master.
“This is indescribable,” Northug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after winning the men’s 15-kilometer free technique. He’d never won it before and had been craving the victory. It finally was his.
Joining him on the platform was another Norwegian, after Tord Asle Gjerdalen surprised everyone by crossing the finish line well ahead of the man who’d been a favourite to win, Dario Cologna. Northug was 17 seconds ahead of arch-rival Cologna after the first of three five-kilometer rounds and expanded the margin as the race went on.
It’s a tough race, at full speed the whole way and with 150 meters of climbing in each lap. Even Northug was utterly exhausted at the end, so exhausted that he collapsed just over the finish line and lay gasping on the snow for an unusually long time, even for Northug. Cameras caught him sobbing with emotion and, probably, relief.
He said later that he had a lot of pain and when it starts to subside then come feelings of great joy, often followed by tears. Cross-country skiing (called langrenn in Norwegian) “is my life, and what means something to me is winning,” Northug told NRK. “When you manage to win in the World Championships, it brings feelings.”
He also ranked Wednesday’s victory as one of his best ever. “It’s a relief,” he said. “Winning an individual start is, for me, one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve had, with the exception of the World Championships at Holmenkollen (two years ago, when he won a pile of medals). That’s still a bit hard to grasp.”
Northug, who has a reputation of being sarcastic and surly, seemed to undergo a bit of a personality change during the past week of top international competition. He’s smiled, spoken more clearly and patiently with reporters and even praised rivals instead of belittling them. He had tears in his eyes when the Norwegian national anthem was played during the initial flower ceremony, finally in his honor after a string of gold medals claimed by Norway’s skiers on the women’s team. It wasn’t too long ago that Northug arrived famously late at another flower ceremony, keeping everyone waiting and ending up with a scolding from sports managers. He clearly has improved his behaviour this year.
He’s definitely fast as well, skiing at amazing speeds and completing the 15-kilometer (nine-mile) course in just 34 minutes and 37.1 seconds. Johan Olsson of Sweden won the silver medal, 11.8 seconds behind Northug, while Gjerdalen finished with a time of 34 minutes 59.4 seconds, 22.3 seconds behind the winner. They got their medals from none other than Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.
Some media commentators in Norway claimed Northug’s efforts to be nice hadn’t seemed to do him much good. He proved them wrong. He told NRK that after failing to win a medal in Saturay’s 30-kilometer skiathlon, he became obsessed with winning the one event he never had before, Wednesday’s 15K: “I realized during a jog last night that I had energy, and a lust for revenge. Petter would take gold, anything else would be a defeat. Only one thing mattered. Winning.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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