Finally some good news for Norway’s former skiing sensation Petter Northug: He’s won two Norwegian ski races in recent days including Sandfjellrennet for the third time on Wednesday. He also broke Sandfjellrennet’s finishing time, but was tight-lipped about his plans for next season as questions rise around his sponsors.
Northug beat national team member Didrik Tønseth in the 30-kilometer Sandfjell race with a time of one hour, 11 minutes and 46 seconds. That was a minute and 18 seconds ahead of Tønseth, and his second victory over his old teammate in the past week.
Northug also beat Tønseth by three seconds in another race last weekend, Flyktningerennet. That was Northug’s first victory of the season that’s just about over. He called it “late but good” on his own Facebook page.
Asked what he thought about breaking the Sandfjell race’s record, Northug simply replied “good conditions, good wind, so that helped” to news bureau NTB. He downplayed his physical condition, saying he didn’t think it was very good and adding that “I can tell I don’t tolerate the uphills, so I’m not in great shape.”
Tønseth nonetheless thought Northug was in good shape: “He crushed us.” Asked whether there was hope for Northug next season, after a winter of illness and failing to qualify for either major World Cup races or the Olympics, Tønseth said he thought so: “I expect he’ll race in the World Championships and that he’ll have at least one season more.”
Northug himself wouldn’t talk about next season: “I’ll take that up then. Right now my focus is on races.”
Newspaper Aftenposten reported last week that Northug, now age 32, refused to face the press at a recent sponsor’s event in order to avoid questions about next season. One of his biggest sponsors had even invited reporters to a half-hour session with Northug, but had to retract the invitation because Northug “was determined not to speak with the press at Granåsen (in Trondheim).”
At that point he wasn’t ready to answer questions he knew would come about his future. And it’s still uncertain, not least since his main sponsorship from grocery store chain Coop is due to expire after this season. So does an agreement Northug has to remain outside the auspices of Norway’s national ski team during the summer and therefore have his own sponsors.
Now Coop reportedly is negotiating with the national ski federation Skiforbundet to become a sponsor for the national teams. It would replace another grocery story chain sponsor, Norges Gruppen’s Spar. That means Coop’s deal directly with Northug may not be a problem while other sponsors reportedly are willing to remain tied to Northug in the off-season. During the winter racing season, Northug can only ski with team sponsors emblazoned on his caps and clothing.
Northug’s manager Are Sørum Langås claims Northug remains attractive despite this past season’s disappointments. “It seems like many think it will be easier to get hold of Petter now, there have never been so many approaches,” Langås told Aftenposten. “Others wonder whether Petter will continue as a racer, and they’re interested in him for his path later.”
Asked whether Northug will ever fully rejoin Norway’s national team, which swept both the World Cup and Olympics this year, Langås said he had nothing to say about that “at the current time.”