By all accounts, Petter Northug’s 2011-2012 campaign was an unexpected failure. The high-profile Norwegian star, who usually finished at or near the top of every podium he contended for, specifically set out to do two things last winter: take the Tour de Ski and win the Vasaloppet.
He came up short on both counts; Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and Marcus Hellner of Sweden both beat him in the Tour in first and second, respectively, and a stomach bug kept him from starting the Vasaloppet. The Marcialonga in northern Italy was his only marathon showing of the year, and there he fell to 10th place behind Norway’s Aukland brothers, Jorgen and Anders, who were first and second.
Northug’s World Cup season subsequently ended prematurely in mid-February, and the 2010 Crystal Globe winner watched his overall ranking slip from second to third in his absence. But despite failing to meet his and everyone else’s expectations, Northug is still as unabashedly ambitious as he ever was.
In a recent interview with the Swedish daily Expressen from a team training camp in Livigno, Italy, he laid out exactly how many races he’ll win: seven World Cups, the Tour de Ski and three golds at World Championships.
“The [World Cup] premiere in Gällivare [Sweden] I will win,” Northug said, according to a translation. “It’s so damn good to win on home ground.”
He took the opportunity to make another jab at Sweden: “In Sweden, of course, I win all the races. It’s most important of all,” he said.
Before last season, ski fans could generally count on Northug to be true to his word. The 26-year-old would reliably deliver unreal finishing kicks that landed him on the top of the podium again and again. But now, after a disappointing winter?
Norwegian coach Trond Nystad affirmed that Northug appears to be in good shape.
“He looks very good,” Nystad said. “Petter has had better results than ever before in the tests we’ve done this summer.”
For all his bravado, Nystad said that Northug manages every aspect of his life and training to a T.
“I usually say that he has steel control of everything he does,” he said.
And despite poking fun at his Swedish rival at every chance he gets, Northug takes Hellner and Cologna seriously.
“Take the last Tour de Ski, while I just became more worn it seemed Marcus became more alert every day. It was impressive,” he said. “Every time Marcus defeats me it hurts inside.”
In Northug’s opinion, the only two skiers to keep track of next winter apart from himself are Hellner and Cologna.
“I think it is Marcus, me and Dario Cologna who will be the strongest over the whole season,” he said.
There are 67 days to go until the season kicks off in Gällivare, and with that kind of confidence, Northug has at least ensured that all eyes will be trained on him.