Norwegian skiing star Petter Northug has lost lots of his shine this year, but managed to claim a spot in the World Cup opener this weekend simply because he’s Petter Northug, sports commentators claimed this week. After finishing in 61st place in a 15-kilometer race last weekend, at Norway’s own season opener, and in 12th place in another 15K race the day after, he probably wouldn’t have qualified otherwise.
“I only exchanged a few words with him,” Norwegian sports chief Vidar Løfshus told newspaper Aftenposten, “and just told him he was the one who had advanced the most.” Northug nonetheless is in “rotten” shape, Løfshus said, but thinks he’ll probably improve quickly over the next few weeks.
Northug, in a controversial move, dropped off Norway’s national team and has been training on his own since last season. Sponsored by the Coop grocery store chain, Northug is clearly “doing his own thing” now, leaving sports experts and fans alike wondering what exactly he’s up to.
He has been known to perform poorly in season openers, only to quickly redeem himself and go on to win gold when it counts. Some of his foreign rivals have suspected that Northug is bluffing about what bad shape he’s in, and about a virus he’s said to have suffered in recent months.
According to Northug himself, “it’s a good sign if my competitors think that I haven’t been sick,” he told reporters after last weekend’s dismal performance at Norway’s own season opener. The weekend event at Beitostølen was overshadowed by Norwegian chess master Magnus Carlsen’s victory in the World Chess Championship. Suddenly skiing wasn’t all over the front pages, but the first World Cup event remains a fairly big deal in Norway, as is Northug’s upcoming performance at the races in Kuusamo, Finland.
He’ll be racing against his own brother Tomas, reported state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday, with the younger Tomas favoured at this point. “It will be tough, almost demoralizing, if I don’t beat Petter overall in Kuusamo,” Tomas Northug told NRK on Tuesday. “I know how little he’s trained this autumn.”
He and Petter share a house back home in Trondheim, and Tomas said that after living with his brother, he was actually impressed over how well Petter did in the Norwegian season opener. “It showed that he can run a good race, even with a bad foundation,” Tomas told NRK.
His coach, Eirik MyhrNossum, isn’t too concerned, either. “Petter calls me all the time, with nothing particular on his mind,” Nossum told Aftenposten. “That’s a good sign.”
Female skiing star Marit Bjørgen was also under the weather at Beitostølen, suffering from a cold, but is expected to participate in the World Cup opener.