Norway’s “bad boy” of skiing, Petter Northug, is back in form, both on and off the ski trails. After a few days of leading the pack in this week’s Tour de Ski, Northug kicked up a fuss by making light of his drunk-driving conviction last spring, and then not regretting a thing.
The occasion was his 29th birthday on Tuesday, when he and fellow skier Chris Jespersen took a break by posing for a photo in a car with Northug sitting behind the wheel. “I got a new chauffeur for the day,” wrote Jespersen after posting the photo on his Instagram page.
He quickly removed it, though, after realizing that not everyone thought it was funny. Northug was convicted of drunk driving, crashing his sponsored Audi into a guardrail at excessive speed and then leaving the scene of the accident with an injured friend sitting in the passenger seat. Northug later was sentenced to 50 days in prison, heavily fined and he lost his driver’s license for life.
The photo on Jespersen’s page, with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reporting how Northug also was shown giving a thumbs-up (external link, in Norwegian), seemed to make light of his drunk-driving spree. “It was meant to be humourous, but I think it shows very bad humour,” said Mina Gerhardsen, secretary general of Actis, an organization campaigning against the ill effects of drugs and alcohol in Norway. She doesn’t think drunk driving is anything to joke about.
“That was a very serious accident that Petter Northug was involved in, and it could have been a lot worse than it was,” Gerhardsen said. “He has appeared to be regretful, but here he comes with a joke where it seems like he doesn’t take (his car crash) very seriously after all.” She claimed skiers like Northug and Jespersen “have a huge responsibility” as idols for many children and youth.
Jespersen apologized for the photo, telling NRK that he “went too far” with the joke. Vidar Løfhus, head of the national skiing team agreed. “It was meant as a joke on Petter’s birthday, but unfortunately they (Jespersen and Northug) showed bad judgment,” Løfhus said.
Northug himself disagreed, calling Jespersen “a coward” for removing the photo. “I think he was acting like a nagging old lady by removing it,” Northug told NRK, claiming he’d “designed” the stunt himself. “If someone thinks it was going too far, they haven’t spent many minutes with me and Chris Jespersen.”
Northug has been in good humour and back to sporting his sarcastic self since he started winning races again this week. He was holding a solid lead in the Tour de Ski until Wednesday, when he wound up in 7th place in the day’s 10 kilometer race, also trailing teammate and rival Martin Johnsrud Sundby. Alexey Poltoranin of Kazakhstan won the race held in Toblach in Italy.
Northug hung on to his overall lead, but Sundby closed in on him and was just 1.5 seconds behind after four of seven races. The Tour de Ski, a series of competitions in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, ends at Val di Fiemme on Sunday.