Norwegian skiing star Petter Northug is upset and disappointed that he wasn’t chosen by Norway’s national ski team officials to compete at the World Cup opener in Ruka, Finland this weekend. He responded by mocking the ski team’s leaders on social media Monday night, and now the national ski federation is reportedly considering disciplinary action against him.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Tuesday that Norway’s national skiing federation (Norges skiforbund) had “opened a personnel case” against Northug after he ridiculed ski team chief Vidar Løfshus, the ski team’s head coach Tor Arne Hetland and some of the team’s members on Instagram. He portrayed Løfshus and Hetland as plotting to dump Northug in order to give priority to lesser-known skiers on the team.
“This is a personnel matter that we’re handling internally and directly with Petter Northug,” skiing federation spokesperson Gro Eide wrote in a text message to NRK Tuesday morning. She wouldn’t answer questions about what consequences the “personnel matter” may have for Northug.
Neither Northug, who’s been training and skiing independently outside the ski season following earlier conflicts with the national skiing federation, nor those involved in his training camp had any immediate comment, claiming they hadn’t heard anything from the federation.
It all marks the start of yet another conflict between Northug and Norwegian sports officials, especially Løfshus, who has dumped Northug on several occasions before. Northug reigned for many years as Norway’s undisputed cross-county champion but also gained a reputation as the “bad boy” of skiing because of his temper, often arrogant behaviour, a habit of ridiculing rivals, a fondness for playing professional poker and disputes over sponsorship income. It climaxed when he crashed his Audi-sponsored car while driving drunk in Trondheim, following a disappointing season in 2014.
For a rundown of stories about Northug over the years, click here.
He’s been keen on comebacks ever since and restored his champion status with four gold medals at the World Championships in Sweden in 2015, only to have another disappointing season last year and miss last weekend’s Norwegian season opener at Beitostølen because of illness. He was thus intent on making his competitive season debut at the World Cup opener, and bitterly disappointed when Løfshus and Hetland dropped him for the team for the third time this year alone. They claim they’re unsure of his condition, and taking him to Finland would also have forced them to dump one of the other 10 Norwegian skiers who qualified for the World Cup opener at Beitostølen.
Now Northug has been forced to adjust his training program in the run-up to the Olympics in February. He’ll race instead this weekend at a Norwegian Cup event at Gålå, where, reported newspaper Dagsavisen, his every move is likely to be closely examined.
The new uproar around Northug follows a relatively predictable cross-country opener at Beitostølen, but there were some surprises. Martin Johnsrud Sundby ended up nearly 53 seconds behind winner Simen Hegstad Krüger in the men’s 15K race, but promised a better performance in Finland. Norwegian ski queen Marit Bjørgen won her races once again, but by a slightly narrower margin in Sunday’s 10K race, where she was challenged by Ragnhild Haga in addition to Heidi Weng. Bjørgen was nonetheless heading to Finland full of self-confidence, telling reporters that when she’s at her best, “I’m tough to beat.”