Norwegian cross-country skiing champion Petter Northug has fired his entire coaching and management team at the behest of his major sponsor, supermarket and hardware chain Coop. Northug’s sponsorship deals and his entire skiing career had been thrown into doubt after he capped off a lacklustre season and disappointing Olympic campaign with a serious drunk driving car crash earlier this month.
Northug quit the Norwegian ski team in 2013 to take on his own sponsorship deals and form his own team, called Nye Høyder (New Heights). Key team members included coach Eirik Myhr Nossum, manager Åre Sørum Langås and Northug’s own father, John. Northug confirmed on Thursday night that he was cutting ties with Nye Høyder, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and news bureau NTB.
“I stand fully behind Coop’s demands that my agreement with Nye Høyder must end,” Northug wrote, via Coop’s head of communications Kristin Paus. “I believe a change of management is now very important for me to be able to perform optimally and achieve the best possible results this winter.”
“Chief Executive Svein Fanebust at Coop Norway confirms now, late this evening, that it’s true that Coop requires Petter Northug’s agreement with Nye Høyder to end so that Coop’s conversations with Northug about ongoing cooperation can continue,” Paus said on Thursday night.
The retailer has not yet decided whether it will continue its sponsorship deal with Northug. Talks between the parties should have finished this week, but Paus said more time was needed. Northug’s future is in doubt after he crashed his luxury car while driving drunk earlier this month, injuring his passenger, and then fled the scene. He also failed to impress on the track this season, both in World Cup competitions and at the Sochi Olympics, where he won no medals. Coop has made no secret of its dissatisfaction with Northug and his team.
“It is correct that there is a conflict between Petter Northug and Nye Høyder in relation to the discontinuation of Nye Høyder’s engagement,” Langås confirmed to NRK. “Petter has conveyed that he’ll discontinue the agreement with Nye Høyder. My role and future tasks are unclear in terms of a new support system around Petter. Until this is clarified I am still active as a supporter of Petter.”
Langås has been one of Northug’s most important supporters for several years, but this year was the first year they’d entered into a formal partnership. Langås remained close to Northug following the crash, and NRK reported the pair were together on Friday despite Northug’s statement through Coop that he’d cut ties with his team. Coop had no further comment on Nye Høyder‘s reaction.
NRK’s cross country expert and former national team coach, Carl-Henning Gran, said Northug had failed to keep any close staff members for more than a year since his breakthrough in the mid 2000s. “From the outside it can seem attractive to work for Team Northug, but I think you should consider carefully before you do so,” said Gran.
“There are different reasons why the various people have disappeared, but an important reason is that a poor job has been done finding the right people,” he explained. “Besides, it’s a difficult job to have. It is a circus, and Northug isn’t known for being easy to work with.”
Gran said switching managers and support staff so frequently is damaging for an athlete’s career. “Most sporting successes are built on continuity, both when it comes to support systems and on the athlete’s side. Quick replacements suggest that you are most interested in shopping for services, and it has often been a sign that a career is reaching its end.”
The former coach also criticized the way Langås and Nossum had been treated. “Something is amiss,” he said. “Last year they were the best team he could get, but this year they have to quit with immediate effect. What’s happened is undignified and shows a throwaway mentality.”
Former national team coach Morten Aa Djupvik confirmed to NRK he’d been in talks with Northug and Coop to take on a coaching role, but said no decisions had been made. Northug won nine international championship gold medals under Djupvik in the national team. Djupvik quit as the national coach in 2011 for family reasons.