Norway’s former top skier Petter Northug has hardly competed this season, performed poorly when he did, failed to impress national ski team coaches and now he’s got the flu. His own personal coach, Stig Rune Kveen, now says he won’t be traveling to South Korea to compete in the Olympics.
“When we stand here today and (know) Petter won’t go to the Olympics, we have to just say it,” Kveen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Now we’re in the middle of January. Petter hasn’t raced and won’t go to the Olympics.”
Northug, who’s been training on his own outside of the national ski team system, missed the season opener in Norway because of illness, then was dropped by the national team from competition at early World Cup events and got in more trouble witih national skiing officials. Kveen admitted to NRK that Northug lost some motivation around New Year “and it doesn’t get better when he has another round of illness and can’t race.”
Northug got sick again at the Scandinavian Cup in Piteå nearly two weeks ago and on Friday, his manager Are Sørum Langås told Trondheim newspaper Adresseavisen that test results show he has a parainfluensa virus that simply must run its course. It’s expected to take around two weeks before he can even start training again. The Olympics begin in early February.
Norwegian skiing officials had kept the door open for Northug to join the national team, but patience was clearly running out. Head coach Vidar Løfshus has made it clear he was skeptical about Northug’s Olympic prospects, telling newspaper Aftenposten on Friday that “the probability his name will be on the list (of those chosen to compete in the Olympics) we deliver is low.” He hastened to add that he and fellow officials hadn’t written the former World Champion and Olympic gold medalist off, saying it “would be stupid to close the door entirely.” They’d still hoped he’d be able to compete this weekend and show himself to be in shape, but now that won’t happen.
There were “very few arguments in favour of taking Petter to the Olympics right now,” Løfshus said even before the flu diagnosis was revealed. “He’s been outrun by other Norwegian athletes.” The only way Northug could compete in South Korea, he added, would be “if there’s an opening on the team, or an extra spot.”
Løfshus also hasn’t been happy with the communication he’s had with Northug himself this season. “It’s Stig Rune Kveen who I speak with,” Løfshus told Aftenposten. “We have a very good dialogue and we’ve had quite frequent meetings over the past month and a half. But I would have liked better personal dialogue with Petter, no doubt about that.”
Asked what hindered such dialogue, Løfshus said: “He didn’t want us to disturb him, to put it that way, and preferred we discuss his training with Stig Rune.”
If, as expected, Northug’s name is not on the list of athletes selected for the Olympics, he’ll be the second Norwegian winter sports star to miss what’s still considered the pinnacle of all competition. Veteran biathlon star Ole Einar Bjørndalen was also dropped from the national team earlier this week, after failing to qualify.