Star skier leaves the national team

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UPDATED: Petter Northug, one of Norway’s most medal-winning cross-country skiers ever, has defied the advice of several fellow skiers and top Norwegian skiing officials and decided to drop out of the national team, at least temporarily.  He wants to go it alone with his own sponsor and his own training program probably until November. 

Finally - Petter Northug could claim the top spot on the winners' platform at the World Championships in Italy. PHOTO: fiemme2013.com/Newspower Canon

Petter Northug ended up on the winners’ platform at the World Championships in Italy but didn’t do as well as expected. Now he wants to go his own way for awhile, with his own sponsors. PHOTO: fiemme2013.com/Newspower Canon

“He wants to be more on his own, also during some of the 100 days at high altitudes that are necessary before February 1,” Åge Skinstad, head of the national team, told newspaper Aftenposten.

Northug had been given until May 23 to make up his mind about staying with the national team and its training program or heading off on his own. He ended up announcing on Wednesday that he felt he “needed a change, that’s the motivation.”

Northug denied that economic considerations were the most important, even though it was widely reported that he stands to earn a lot off his new private sponsorship, and quickly.  He also denied he’d had any sort of conflict with the national skiing federation or with the coaches on the national team.

“There haven’t been any conflicts, I’ve had some fantastic years,” Northug said at a press conference at Værnes. “But I will have more freedom to organize my own training and my days when I’m on my own.”

Northug has arranged a sponsorship deal of his own with Coop, the retail grocery store chain, which Aftenposten reported is willing to pay Northug “a good sum” to be able to feature him in their own promotions. Skiers are allowed to have their own sponsors in addition to team sponsors, so Northug’s decision to sign with Coop indicates it’s a lucrative offer. “At least he’ll make a lot of money,” claimed one commentator for newspaper VG.

As long as they’re part of the national team, skiers must also follow the team’s rules. Northug wants more freedom during the run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics.

‘Sad’
Skinstad said he’s had regular conversations with Northug “and it’s no secret that I advised him to continue” with the national team. So did Norway’s star female skier Marit Bjørgen, as late as Tuesday. She claimed she didn’t see any advantage of not being part of Norway’s national team and training programs, often called the best in the world.

Skinstad downplayed Northug’s desire to be on his own for awhile, saying it had happened before and that Northug has never criticized the national team that has nurtured him for years. “We and Petter Northug have the same goal, and that’s to do well in the World Cup, the Tour de Ski and the Olympics,” Skinstad told Aftenposten. He later said, though, that he thought it was “sad” that Northug was leaving the team for most of the rest of this year.

Officials at Aker, the industrial firm that’s the main sponsor for Norway’s national team, likely aren’t happy that the team’s top male skier is dropping out but have already stated that their support for the team will continue with or without Northug.

“Cross-country skiing is much more than Petter Northug,” Skinstad said. “Marit Bjørgen is the most popular athlete in the country and Therese Johaug is as popular as Petter … no skier can be bigger than the national team.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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