Court sentences skier Northug to jail

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Norway’s former champion skier Petter Northug was sentenced on Monday to seven months in prison by a court in Oslo that also revoked his driver’s license for the rest of his life. Northug, long known as the “bad boy” of skiing who loved to taunt his rivals, accepted his punishment and plans no appeal.

Petter Northug, shown here with some of his medals from the Nordic World Ski Championships in 2015, is now heading for jail. An Oslo County Court judge ruled Monday that Northug has not learned from previous drunk driving and speeding offenses, and sentenced him to seven months in prison. PHOTO: Nordic Focus/FIS Photo Pool

The sentence is harsh by Norwegian standards and Northug will have to serve jail time since no portion of his sentence was suspended. The court only needed two hours to reach a verdict after hearing Northug’s own testimony in the courtroom Monday morning.

He was found guilty not only of excessive speeding in an expensive sports car but filming it while driving with only one hand on the wheel. The judge in the case noted how a video of Northug’s speeding shows that he was intentionally trying to humiliate the drivers of the cars and trucks that he passed on the road.

Northug thus was determined to have put both his life and the lives of others in danger. “The extenuating circumstances here are that several videos were made of his speeding which, according to his own testimony, were shown to friends,” Judge Ole Kristen Øverberg said in court, adding that Northug has a police record of similar offenses.

Prosecutors asked for eight months in jail, while Northug’s defense attorney Halvard Helle argued that six months was sufficient punishment. That would also have allowed Northug to avoid actual prison by serving with a footlink that would control his movements. The judge opted for a harsher verdict that will demand time in a prison.

Hit speeds of 221 kilometers per hour (133mph)
Northug, age 34, had confessed to his crimes, which also included possession of a small amount of narcotics. The former multiple World Champion and Olympic medalist in cross-country skiing testified via video link, quickly admitting that his speeding was “filmed with the mobile phone” in his right hand and “the other hand on the steering wheel,” while driving at a speed of 204 kilometers an hour (122 mph) in an 80-zone.

His latest sentence involved four separate speeding incidents over three days last August, while driving back and forth from Oslo to a summer ski camp for youngsters at the Trysil skiing center. He was clocked driving more than 200 kph on the E6 motorway at Espa south of Hamar on August 10, on the two-lane highway between Elverum and Trysil on August 12, also on the same highway on his return trip August 13 between Trysil and Elverum (when he was clocked at 221kph, or 133 mph) and later the same day on the E6 at Ullensaker. That’s when he was finally spotted by police.

‘Motivated’ to overcome drug problem
Northug, who tearfully retired from skiing in 2018, admitted at a press conference after his arrest in August that he has a drug problem. He was declared sober after blood tests taken August 13 but police later found narcotics in his home in Oslo. It emerged in court on Monday that he’s been tested frequently during the months following his arrest and they’ve been clear.

Northug’s father, who played a key role in Northug’s skiing career, claimed to state broadcaster NRK in October that the young man who loved to ski fast is now “motivated to move on, motivated to overcome all the trouble, and to get back on the right track.” John Northug, who also trained his other son Even as a professional skier, said he assembled all three of his sons in the weeks after the August august arrest. The family, from Mosvik in Trøndelag, “spent time together, necessary time together, I think. Then we tried to normalize everyday life. And that means Petter is getting help. The rest of us are the motivators around what’s happening.”

‘Getting professional help’
John Northug claimed there was “no doubt that the family has been important for Petter all along. Perhaps even more now than ever.”  They also spent time on roller-skis at the Granåsen skiing center in Trondheim, to help get Petter back in shape. Northug is also getting “professional help,” his father confirmed, for his addiction problems.

Skeptics remain, since Northug has had a stormy career and caused lots of trouble for himself and others. “I understand the skeptics,” John Northug told NRK. “There are things here that can’t be defended at all, and then it’s more a matter of trying to understand that the life Petter has lived is completely abnormal. Even if he goes to the grocery story, he attracts lots of attention.” And he’s kept stirring up trouble. Northug has won the sympathy card on occasion, and Norwegian fans have also generally forgiven him.

All the attention that Northug has a habit of generating “is well-meant,” his father said, “but it can be too much. I’m certain that the help he’s getting now is fantastic. I see a difference in Petter, but this is no quick-fix. It’s something Petter must spend a lot of time on, and he’s on the way.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund