Petter Northug retires – Moved to tears

Northug retires cross-countryPetter Northug. Photo: Ole Martin Wold / NTB Scanpix.

Petter Northug retires – Moved to tears at Press brief

Petter Northug (32) confirmed Wednesday that he retires as a cross-country skier at the top level of the sport. Norwegian and international cross-country skiing loses one of its biggest profiles when his career now is at its end.


In front of a large press corps at Lerkendal In Trondheim, a groomed 32-years-old told that a long and eventful career as a cross-country superstar is over. He has trouble holding back the tears when he first and foremost gives thanks to his family for all support they have provided over the years.

I have taken the decision to retire as a skier. As I said at Beitostølen, it has been a tricky late summer and autumn. I have tried to be in good shape when the season was about to start, but I have for the last two weeks known that I lack the little extra to deliver at this level. I can not bear to use more energy and effort to keep my place on the team when I’m so far behind.

It has been an adventure. I had a dream like a little boy to become a good skier and I’m proud of what I’ve got. Cross-country skiing has been my life for many years, and it’s tough to give it up, but at the same time, it’s a bit good as well.

I have been thinking a lot about this in the last week. It is limited how long you are willing to keep on trying when progress is lacking.

~ Petter Northug

A clearly touched Northug is struggling on stage at his final press conference.

– This was tougher than I had thought, Northug answers on questions from NRK.

Northug has had a troubled entry to the season and has not been even close to the Norwegian National team so far. The Mosvik body has not responded to training and Northug stated during the season opener at Beitostølen that if he would not be able to ski fast around mid-December it was over.

On December 12th the final decision was made: Northug is quitting top level competitions.

Northug achieved 13 World Championships gold medals, two Olympic gold medals and two overall victories in the World Cup among his most prominent merits.

End of the line

The sprint cannon from Mosvik in Nord-Trøndelag will be remembered as a central person in modern cross-country skiing. He gathered two Olympic gold medals and 13 World Championships gold medals in a period where other Norwegian skiers most often failed. Northug has often bragged loudly, but he has delivered many results to match the quips.

With phrases such as «Its darn easy», «Kids race», «Who’s da King?» and «And I’m, for fucks sake, not going to the Olympics?» he has charmed and enthused from the start of his career as a senior, and has been one of Norway’s most popular athletes throughout the last decade.

The big downturn

Everything has, however, not been a dance on roses for the man who on Wednesday announces that he has skied his last competition at the top level.

A central turning point came in May 2014, after an Olympic season that had been of the difficult type for Northug. On Sunday morning, a drunken top athlete put himself behind the steering wheel and went for a ride that ended up in a crash barrier at Byåsen in Trondheim, not far from his home.

The time that followed was very dramatic for Northug. He was sentenced to 50 days imprisonment, a sentence he served out at home. Chief among the ensuing questions was whether the 28-year-old trønder could make a return to the top level of cross-country skiing.


He could most certainly do so. Northug made strong appearances, became number two in the Tour de Ski (later converted to 1st place after Martin Johnsrud Sundby’s asthma case), and at the World Championships in Falun, Sweden, in February 2015 the final proof was provided that he wasn’t a write-off.

It started with a victory on the sprint, the exercise that was the opener at the World Championships. Three days later, he achieved the gold medal in the team sprint alongside Finn Hågen Krogh, while Northug, as the anchorman, also was awarded the honour of securing a gold medal for Norway in front of Sweden in the relay.

He was not done yet. At the 50 K, which concluded the championship in the Swedish forests, he appeared at the end with his usual superior sprint and secured his fourth World Championship in one week in a nerve-racking race.


The aforementioned 50K forms a good image of Petter Northug at his very best. His tactical abilities, an explosive change of pace and very distinct sprint qualities are his trademarks throughout most of his career.

His personality and his control of the media makes him known far outside the ski track. Northug is a favourite among the cross-country fans and is a «rock star» in a sport that is best known for fostering sturdy and hard-working toilers.

The star status also enabled him to abandon the Norwegian national team and continue his cross-country career with a private team. Northug earned millions to represent Coop, and he was also a favourite sponsor object for many major business actors.

Several have stated that the efforts outside the national team contribute to the lack of success in recent years. After the Falun World Championships, the big results have not appeared, and the return to the national team before this season is not enough to salvage a failing career.

Olympic controversy

Success has been achieved on a large scale. The World Championships at home in Oslo in 2011 is a dream come true with three gold and two silver medals and during the Olympics the year before, he climbed to the top of the podium both at the 50K and the team sprint events.

Four years earlier, national team coach, Kristen Sørgård, made controversy by omitting a 20-years-old Northug from the team that was heading for the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The lightning-fast Trønder received instant fame across Norway after toying with the Norwegian elite at the 30K race during the National Championships, which, by chance, was the same day that the Olympic team was to be selected.

It seemed likely that the Strindheim athlete would attend the events in Turin, but that was not to be. Many, including himself, spoke up for his participation, but then national team coach, Kristen Sørgård, decided that he was too immature.

At one point, it went so far that King Harald was asked if he would intervene on Northug’s behalf, but Turin was not meant to be.


Northug answered in the best possible way with gold medals in all four events of the Junior World Championships a week later. When he returned at the World Cup in Falun in March, he was even victorious on the 20K there.

Petter Northug was adamant that he would never again be omitted from any Championship team selection. He followed this pledge up with results that made it impossible to leave him out for many years to come.

The World Championships in Falun in 2015,  was, however, his last proper comeback to the ski circus. Henceforth, Northug will be found in his new role as an expert commentator for Norwegian TV 2.

Milestones in Petter Northug’s career

The high points are many in Petter Northug’s career. Here are some of them:

  • Petter Northug became a part of Norwegians’ consciousness when he beat Frode Estil and won the gold medal in skiathlon at Kongsberg on January 22, 2006. An hour later, he was informed that he was scrapped from the Olympic Team in Turin. The bitterness caused by the rejection marks his entire career.
  • The very next day, the junior crushed Norway’s presumed anchorman for the Turin Olympics, Tore Ruud Hofstad, when he cruised Strindheim to victory at the National Championships relay event and the famous words «And I’m, for fuck’s sake, not going to the Olympics?» was exclaimed.
  • At the Junior World Championships a few weeks later he garnished four gold medals, and after the Olympics were over, he secured his first ever World Cup victory in the Falun skiathlon (Classic and freestyle) on March 8th. He did so as the youngest male cross-country athlete ever. If people did not understand it at Kongsberg in January, at least now they realised that a star is born.
  • The World Championships in Sapporo, Japan in 2007 is remembered for two things related to Northug. The first disastrous and is about when he placed his pole between his legs and fell as he was heading for a clear-cut gold medal in the skiathlon. In his book «My story» he tells of how this rode him like a mare for months to come. A little of the disappointment of the outcome was balanced out when he secured Norway the relay win six days later. «Kids event!» Northug exclaimed at the top of his lungs and thus invented a phrase that prevails to this day.
  • On February 22nd, 2009, he obtained his first individual World Championships gold medal at the age of 23. Again it was the sprint that decided when Anders Södergren (Sweden) and Giorgio Di Centa (Italy) were reduced to extras. Five days later, he secured a Norwegian relay win when Germany’s anchorman, Axel Teichmann, was defeated. At the World Championships final event, Northug was in many ways confirmed as a cross-country athlete, then won the final 50K of the championship.
  • During the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, Northug was one of the major favourites in all events, but it started badly with a near misses in both the 15K freestyle and skiathlon events. On Monday, February 22nd, he performed outstandingly when he won the gold medal in the team sprint together with Øystein “the Sausage” Pettersen. At the final event of the Olympics, he obtained the career’s only individual Olympic gold medal when he won the 50K.
  • For many years, Northug had the World Championships in Oslo, 2011, in the front of his mind. It was there he was to show his true potential. The abyss loomed formidably, but Northug did not disappoint and gathered three gold medals. He opened with a second spot finish behind the Swede Marcus Hellner in the sprint, before he cruised to a victory in the skiathlon. Then Northug cried openly. In the relay, Sweden’s Hellner was sprinted down, and the way in which he celebrated his victory, made the Swedes call him a swine. Again, it was time for a victory on the 50K. The Russian Maxim Vylegzjanin was parked in the last climb before the finish.
  • In the World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, in 2013, he anchored Norway to another relay win, but it is his 15K freestyle victory that is remembered. Northug most likely performed his very best at an individual start event, ever. Northug was in the lead from start to finish and won with sovereignty.
  • After a disappointing Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 and the much-talked-about car ride in May 2014, Northug took a hold of himself. The World Championships in Falun became the next big target, and the comeback at the top level was a resounding success. In Falun, he snatched four gold medals. The 50K gold is the stuff of legends. The way he moved through the field at the finish is one of the most magical moments in cross-country skiing, ever. It was also to be his last championships victory.


© NTB scanpix / #Norway Today