Skier Petter Northug was soundly beaten in a long-distance race on Saturday but prevailed in a sprint on Sunday. He thus showed that he deserves a spot on the national team again, to qualify for world championship competition in February, but he also caused some irritation in the ski season kick-off at Beitostølen over the weekend.
Northug finished a lowly 23rd in a 15-kilometer race on Saturday, way behind winner Martin Johnsrud Sundby. That plunged Northug into what one commentator called an “impolite and childish” bad mood, giving only terse, one-word answers to the reporters who nonetheless clustered around him when the race was over.
That left Sundby having to wait and shiver in the sub-freezing cold until state broadcaster NRK was ready to interview him after first interviewing Northug. Einar Kristengård, a longtime sports reporter in Norway, called his colleagues “idiots” for allowing themselves to be steered by Northug’s whims and rudeness. Sundby, meanwhile, was irritated, not necessarily at his returning teammate Northug, his national team boss Åge Skinstad quickly claimed, “but because he had to stand and wait in the cold, and I understand that.”
Northug, who faces a jail term for a drunk driving crash last spring, also did his share of scowling during the weekend and then sashayed over the finish line again when he finally won on Sunday, turning his head to glare at his challenger Sonre Turvoll Fossli.
It was the last time Northug would be decked out in ski gear emblazoned with his private sponsor’s logos. From now on, he’ll be wearing the national team’s gear with its sponsors, not least at next weekend’s important season opener at Kuusamo.
Kristengård thinks sports journalists should turn their backs on Northug and refuse to accept the bad behavior and terms for interviews that Northug sets, always to the advantage of himself or his sponsors. The media, Kristengård chided his colleagues, has helped put Northug into a media star position “that he hardly deserves.” Kristengård also thinks sports coverage should concentrate more on sports instead of personalities, in which case Sundby’s winning performance through the weekend events at Beitostølen should have drawn far more attention than Northug.
The women skiers, meanwhile, did grab attention on Friday and Saturday, with Therese Johaug beating star skier Marit Bjørgen in the first big race of the season. Bjørgen powered back, though, and is expected to perform well again this year after claiming several gold medals at the Olympics in Sochi.