Northug aims to ‘ski fast’ again

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UPDATED: Norwegian cross-country skier Petter Northug, aiming for a comeback after a poor season that ended in a drunk driving scandal, has managed to retain large Norwegian grocery store owner Coop as his main sponsor. He lost Audi Norge, however, after crashing the expensive Audi he was driving while intoxicated and then leaving an injured passenger at the scene of the accident. Questions remain over whether he’ll be allowed to take part in world championship- and World Cup competition with Norway’s national ski team.

Cross country ski star Petter Northug at a Coop Extra checkout in Stjørdal at the end of April, just days before the car crash that put his lucrative sponsorship deals and ski career in jeopardy. Coop demanded on Thursday that Northug cut ties with his management team, and has not yet ruled out pulling out of their sponsorship deal. PHOTO: twitter.com/PetterNorthug1

Cross country skier Petter Northug has managed to hang on to his sponsorship by grocery store chain Coop. He’s shown here at a Coop Extra checkout in April, just days before he went on a drunk driving spree. PHOTO: twitter.com/PetterNorthug1

“I’m grateful for the confidence Coop has shown in me, and am very satisfied with the agreement,” Northug stated in a press release sent out by Coop on Wednesday. He claimed the new agreement would motivate him and allow him to continue to ski at top professional levels.

Audi Norge, however, announced in a press release also issued on Wednesday that it would not be renewing its sponsorship agreement with Northug.

After what Audi called the “incident” in the early morning hours of May 4, director Vidar Eriksen of Audi Norge stated that the carmaker had “good conversations with Petter Northug Jr and the team around him.” Eriksen stated that it was “necessary to spend plenty of time” gathering all the facts about what happened that night after Northug had been drinking heavily with friends in Trondheim.

“We have also been clear that we viewed this case as a serious violation of the law and our confidence,” Eriksen wrote. “Northug has acknowledged that.”

Coop was also uncertain whether it would retain Northug and speculation flew over Northug’s future. In May, however, Coop indicated it would stick with Northug and on Wednesday revealed that it had come to terms with the skier, who now needs both financial and professional support. His new sponsorship contract is for two years and Coop will continue to use Northug as a promotional figure. New products bearing Northug’s name and image will also be sold in Coop stores.

Financial terms and conditions of the deal were not revealed. Coop was earlier reported to have demanded that Northug dump his former coaching team and stop taking part in poker tournaments. “We have a plan for future cooperation now for two years,” Northug’s manager, Are Sørum Langås, told state broadcaster NRK. “I don’t want to go into the details of the process.” Trondheim newspaper Adresseavisen reported last week that Eirik Myhr Nossum will take over as Northug’s coach from Stig Rune Kveen.

Coop’s chief executive, Svein Fanebust, said the new agreement provides “a good framework for Petter’s next season, and everything is now in place so that he can go fast on skis and be successful this winter.” Northug still has no agreement, though, with Norway’s national skiing federation (Norges Skiforbund) regarding his participation in either the world championships or World Cup competition this season. The stalemate doesn’t have as much to do with Northug’s drunk driving as it does with commercial considerations. The federation, which has Coop’s rival grocery store chain Spar as one of its major sponsors, has tightened its rules regarding other athlete’s sponsorships that can leave Coop with less exposure than it thinks it’s paying for. Coop told Adresseavisen, though, that it will support Northug regardless.

Northug has been making some public appearances lately, taking part in roller ski competition and playing in a celebrity football match at the Norway Cup youth football tournament in Oslo last month. Results have been mixed, but even after last year’s terrible skiing season when Northug failed to win any major competitions, some of his former teammates on the Norwegian ski team think he’ll ski fast again. “I think Petter is very motivated and inspired to have a good season,” multiple gold medal winner Therese Johaug told news bureau NTB last week. Skier Sjur Røthe also thinks Northug “looks like he’s out for revenge.”

His drunk-driving crash, though, and his admission that he left his injured passenger at the scene is hard to forgive for many of his fellow skiers. “Northug will never get my sympathy for what he did,” Norwegian skiing star Marit Bjørgen told newspaper Expressen in Sweden late last month. She added, though, that she feels sorry for him and thinks he’d been under a lot of pressure. “He’s just a person, like all of us others,” she said.

Attorneys have predicted that Northug will be sentenced to 40 days in prison for a drunk driving conviction but that he may be allowed to serve his time at home or under supervision with an ankle link restricting his movements. Drunk driving convictions alone in Norway generally result in 21-36 days in prison. Leaving the scene of the accident  and vastly exceeding the speed limit are extra violations expected to stiffen his sentence.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund