An unusually humbled Petter Northug, once the best cross-country skier in the world, denied on Thursday that he has a drinking problem. Four days after he crashed his car at high speed in a drunk-driving spree, he was back out training on roller skis in his home district of Meråker in Trøndelag, and vowing to return to the top international ranks of his sport.
Asked by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) whether he has a problem with alcohol, Northug responded “Absolutely not.” He also denied he was under the influence of any other substances when he sped straight through a rotary intersection, collided with a guardrail and then fled the scene of the collision, leaving an injured passenger behind.
He still faces a mandatory jail term of up to 60 days in addition to high fines, but was back working out on Thursday, something he said he now intends to do a lot more of in the weeks and months to come.
“After the past few days I’ve had, it’s good to get outdoors again and clear my thoughts,” Northug told NRK, adding that it marked the start of his “way back” to a stricter training regime and the highest levels of skiing.
“I want to fight my way back to the top and really make an impression on skiing again next year,” Northug said. “That means I have to make some changes now and I’m starting with that today.”
He still sees himself as a gold medal candidate in the World Championships “and at the top in the World Cup.” Asked to specify the “changes” he referred to, Northug said it involved “moving my focus over to everything that has to do with training. That’s clearly the most important. Get enough rest, sleep and eat well.”
Northug said the days since his drunk driving crash “have been tough. It takes time to deal with everything that happens after something like that. The worst has been that I disappointed so many people. I disappointed myself, yeah, but disappointing people who mean the most to me, that was the worst.”
Asked what he thinks about the future of his sponsorships, Northug said he just needed to “clear my head” first, and get back into more normal routines by exercising and spending time with his family. He said he hadn’t decided whether to accept offers of help from Norway’s national athletics federation, the ski association and the Olympic committee (Olympiatoppen).
He said he still didn’t know what his blood alcohol level was and claimed he’d never driven after drinking before. He said he “wasn’t certain” it would be possible to regain the public’s confidence after his behavior over the weekend, “it will be difficult after this, but I’ll do what I can to fight my way back to the top and just do well in training. That’s the first priority.”