Petter Northug, one of Norway’s most high-profile champion skiers and sports heroes in recent years, admitted Sunday evening that he was the one driving his expensive Audi A7 when it crashed into a guardrail at high speed on a city street in Trondheim. He also has admitted that he was driving under the influence of alcohol, after police earlier in the day had said that one of the two persons in the car ran away from the scene of the crash, leaving an injured passenger.
After a full day of refusing to admit to his actions, and being shielded by his manager, Northug issued a press release in which he publicly apologized for the dramatic single-car crash in Trondheim’s Byaasen district, and said he was prepared to accept his punishment.
Chastened role model
“I know that I am a role model for many young people, and acknowledge fully that I haven’t behaved the way a role model should,” Northug stated. “I want to apologize for that, and to everyone who is disappointed in me.”
A clearly chastened Northug, otherwise known for being rather arrogant and sarcastic, read his statement aloud before leaving for what his teammates said was “an undisclosed location” to think through what he has done.
Northug, age 28, had a disappointing ski season last winter after choosing to leave Norway’s national team and pursue his professional skiing career on his own. He declined, however, to offer any details as to what led to his drunk and reckless driving early Sunday morning. He faces serious police charges of driving while intoxicated and causing an accident, which generally results in a jail sentence in Norway.
The other young man in the car, who is recovering from what police said were minor injuries, has also been charged in the case. He was tended to by a passerby after Northug reportedly fled the scene. Northug did not directly address that aspect of the incident in his prepared statement.
“I fully understand that the public will expect me to reveal more about the incident in the near future,” Northug stated. “I will do so, when I have thought more thoroughly about the situation together with my family. I hope the media will respect that.”
Northug said he was “extremely unhappy” with himself right now, “and very disappointed myself over what I have done.”
At the same time, he added, “I’m grateful that my bad judgment didn’t have even greater consequences.” He said he had “spoken openly with the police about what happened and I am prepared to accept the punishment for my actions.”
Career consequences unclear
He refused to speculate on what his drunk driving and accident, which left the Audi that he’d received as part of a sponsor deal with the carmaker a total wreck, will mean for his skiing career or commercial sponsorships. “I need to digest this first,” Northug said. “I know that I’ve let people down, and I will do all I can to turn this into something positive.”
He added that he “wants to learn from this situation, so that I can mature as a person. I know that this may be the toughest run of my life, but I’m willing to try to succeed.”
Northug’s main sponsor, retail firm Coop Norge, called the incident “very sad and serious” with chief executive Svein Fanebust stating in its own press release that the company is “disappointed that Petter has committed a serious violation of the law. He has behaved in a way that is not in line with the ideals he should carry out as part of the agreement with Coop Norge.”
Fanebust has earlier confirmed to newspaper VG that Northug was paid a minimum of NOK 9 million by Coop Norge and that the company has an exit clause that can allow it to cancel Northug’s contract.