UPDATED: “This is a crisis for Petter Northug,” exclaimed former long-distance skier and NRK commentator Fredrik Aukland after Norway’s former cross-country skiing star did so poorly in the weekend’s World Cup prologue events in Lillehammer that he dropped out and went home. On Monday, leaders of the men’s national ski team dropped Northug off the list of skiers chosen to compete in the next World Cup races in Davos, and then excluded him for all competition before Christmas.
Tor Arne Hetland, coach of the men’s national team, told newspaper Adresseavisen in Trondheim that Northug isn’t able to train because he’s still suffering the after-effects of illness earlier this season.
Northug won’t ski in any officially competitive events before Christmas. It remained unclear whether he’d be able to compete in the Tour de Ski right after Christmas.
“He’s just not responding to training,” Hetland said after a meeting with Northug and other skiing officials on Monday that he called “very good and positive otherwise.” Northug simply hasn’t been in the good shape he thought he was this season.
Norway’s skiing federation released its list of 11 skiers heading for Davos this week and state broadcaster NRK reported that Northhug wasn’t among them. His personal coach Stig Rune Kveen wasn’t surprised, telling tvsporten.no that “Petter isn’t in shape and needs two weeks of training.”
Now even his training has been dropped until he recovers. Races scheduled in Roblach the last weekend before Christmas and at the Scandinavian Cup the same weekend are out of the question.
Despite Northug’s claims that he was in good shape heading into the winter ski season, it’s off to a terrible start. Now his chances of being selected to compete at the Winter Olympics in February are getting worse by the day. He missed the season opener at Beitostølen because of illness, wasn’t chosen to compete at the World Cup opener in Finland and then got in trouble for mocking both ski team leaders and some of his teammates. He didn’t do well at an alternative competition at Gålå and then failed to impress anyone this past weekend in Lillehammer.
He had finally faced reporters for the first time this season at a brief press conference just before races began in Lillehammer. “I feel like I’m in good shape and I’m ready for a good race,” Northug said. He dismissed his controversial posts on social media that mocked teammates and superiors as “humour,” and claimed he wasn’t stressed by the looming Olympic selection process.
“Around me, everything is very calm,” he said on Friday, adding that he fully intended to race in Saturday’s World Cup sprint and in the men’s 30-kilometer race on Sunday. He ended up doing so poorly on Saturday that he packed up and left the competition.
His legs did more talking more than he did, and after another disappointing performance in Lillehammer where teammate Johannes Høsflot Klæbo won everything again, many think Northug’s time at the top of his sport is over. Others claim Northug and ski team leaders need to have some mutual respect for each other and that Northug needs to show more respect for his fellow team members. Now he apparently just needs to rest and get well. Norway’s Olympic team will be decided at the end of January.