Is Petter Northug a True Champion?

FasterSkierMarch 12, 200922


Petter Northug celebrates relay gold at the World Championships, Liberec 2009 (Photo: Swix Sport)
Petter Northug celebrates relay gold at the World Championships, Liberec 2009 (Photo: Swix Sport)


Petter Northug (NOR) has been on a roll recently, winning three gold medals at the World Championships and then besting sprint specialist Ola Vigen Hattestad in the first World Cup sprint following Liberec.

Northug has come under constant criticism for his cocky and disrespectful attitude.  He has routinely made headlines in European papers for his lack of tact.  In one notable incident, after taking out Swede Thobias Fredriksson in a sprint, he told the press that Fredriksson was “too big to go around, almost half-fat.”

The young Norwegian star seems to have a personal rivalry with German Axel Teichmann who takes umbrage at Northug’s unwillingness to lead in races and his general disrespect for his competitors.  In the 4x10km relay in Liberec, Northug caught Teichmann on the fourth leg and sat behind him until the final sprint.  Northug’s response is that they don’t give medals for taking turns leading, and until they do he will use whatever strategy he can to win.

Said Teichmann, “You need more than success to be a star. He doesn’t behave like a champion.”

So the question is, can Petter Northug rise to the ranks of the great Norwegians like Ulvang, Daehlie, and Alsgaard if he doesn’t clean up his act?

[poll id=”6″]


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  • T.Eastman

    March 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

    The world of mass start racing raises its ugly head. Northug’s behavior is no different that what happens in bike racing. He’s on fire and upsetting those whose games have not yet adjusted to the realities of mass start racing.

  • Jon Underwood

    March 12, 2009 at 10:45 am

    In mass starts there are many options for dealing with people who don’t play by the unwritten rules or have no sense of honor. When you mass-start with the same people, race after race, the best strategy is, don’t start playing dirty- because others can play that game, and everyone there is expert. Northug is going to find himself blocked, poles broken, baskets stepped on, etc. if he keeps this up. Or he will find himself in a stare-down with someone who will not let him draft, someone who is a better sprinter, and will beat him to the line.

    Likewise, foolish public comments tend to send sponsors scurrying elsewhere.

  • nordic_dave

    March 12, 2009 at 10:49 am

    He can race his tactics as he chooses to win. His mouth is another story, always has been. When I watched the low class antics of the now famous dopers of the U.S. Track Team after their Gold Medal Relay in Sydney it was so sweet to see them stripped of their medals 6 years later. Micheal Johnson the only true champion on the relay team voluntarily gave up his medal before anyone stripped it from him. Fast forward to the Jamacians in China winning Gold, way over the top in celebration without respect to their competitors. They were admonished for doing so. The NFL and NCAA now has penalties for end zone celebrations in football. Athletics and competition should be about character and what makes a champion a true champion not just the 1st place finisher.
    Northug can win 50 World Cups and Olympic Medals and if
    he continues his “it’s all about me” antics I’ll probably be more interested in watching something, someone else.

  • crashtestxc

    March 12, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    This man is a machine! What person can you think of has been as dominant and versatile in skiing as Northug? Yes, mention Daehlie and the rest, yet no one can deny the talent it takes to win races ranging from a sprint to a 50k race.

    He is bringing well deserved attention to a sport that may not be as big as some, at least here in the U.S.

    Why not act a little different than everyone else? It’s good to add some humor to everything. Plus, who doesn’t like the awesome finishes that this guy has had?! Blowing by the Germans in the relay…that was impressive!

    Hey, until the U.S. can put together a four man relay team that can match up to the top group, I’m cheering for these guys…

    Having respect for other racers is important, but complaining about another racers tactics as an excuse…that’s pathetic.

  • Mike Trecker

    March 12, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    As opposed to a “false champion”, unless he’s doping, he’s true. His tactics are nothing new, cycling has had to deal with super fast wheel suckers forever. The only way to be sure Northug doesn’t win is to attack and attack over and over until he’s not there to win the sprint. If the others are un-willing to do this, Northug will win as often as Cipollini in cycling.

  • skilats

    March 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    In the 50K at the WMs in Liberec the only skier who pulled for alot of the race was Hoffman of Austria. Zorzi kind of accidentally went off the front for awhile and two French skiers led near the end along with Gjerdalen of Norway. I did not see the Germans at the front so I don’t understand their complaint.
    You’d think after seeing the final hill move to get over the top down to the finish several times that another skier might try it.
    As for the verbal comments – they’re unnecessary but I hadn’t heard much about them or Northug’s ski personna.
    Not sure I like that switch skis thing even though it was the same rule for all the skiers. I guess us unwashed masses are not allowed to do it is my beef.

  • Andrew Lee

    March 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    The videos with Northug racing are the most fun to watch by far.

    The complaints about his racing style are ridiculous. If you are racing within the rules, anything goes. Why shouldn’t dictate his efforts in the race so he can gives himself the best chance to win? Ski-sucking can’t even come close to being described as “dirty”.

    Anyway in the 50 Km at Liberec, he lead out the sprint from quite a ways out and had to go hard all the way to the line. No one came around him.

    In the relay he came from behind to catch Teichmann – why would he be obligated to lead at all? Teichmann could have skied faster to avoid getting caught, if he was capable. If he wasn’t capable, he has to deal with trying to beat Northug in a sprint, or lose. If Teichmann(or any skier) doesn’t want to lead, they can slow down to a crawl. If a competitor is afraid of others catching up, well, that’s part of what makes racing a complex interesting game. What does Northug have to do? Lose a race on purpose to satisfy critics?

    I don’t read or speak Norwegian, so I don’t know about his comments to the press, but “almost too big to go around, almost-half fat” might not be tactful, but he it sounds like he’s just saying what he really thinks and it’s kind of funny. I kind of doubt it hurts the other skiers feelings.

  • Tim Kelley

    March 12, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    This discord sounds like the 70’s/ early 80’s when skating was ramping up. People were saying skating is not fair! Skating doesn’t follow the “rules” of the sport! So eventually the disciplines were separated. Same here. If many skiers can’t play the rough and tumble rules of mass starts, then maybe more individual start races should be held. Then folks like Tiechman, that don’t have the speed or tactical savvy of a Northug, would have a better chance at WC titles. I think you have to appreciate Northug’s behavior. If the WC organizers say that ski races should be mass start races on short loops just like bicycle racing criteriums, then Northug should be commended for figuring out that you need to act like a cyclist to win a ski race that is run like bike race. Athletes that push the edge of the sport’s paradigm, like Koch and Northug, end up being the champions that time honors.

  • nordic_dave

    March 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I think the discussion of race tactics are more the minor point vs. “the cocky disrespectful attitude” and “general disrespect for his competition” as the major point of how someone should be viewed as a Champion. Champions are traditionally viewed by many as someone to be a role model in how to conduct yourself when you do win. When Peter is 40 and still the anchor skier & winning WC relay’s as he has already claimed, I sincerely hope that he will do it with a bit more class.

  • amarquez

    March 12, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    True champion? Yes, of course. True sportsman? No, not currently with the behavior he has displayed. Perhaps he will become more gracious with age.

  • ADS

    March 12, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    @Jon Underwood – I don’t think Northug will face an athlete that will be faster than him over the last 1km in the next five years. So a stare-down will only strengthen Northug’s odds of winning a race.

    I completely agree with Mike Trecker. He’s not breaking any rules.

    I’m surprised that 61% of the pollers think Nothug isn’t a true champion. Had Cologna won 3 gold’s in Liberec. He would be a “true champion” just because he’s a little softer spoken than Northug…..that’s B.S. Northug is making headlines for cross-country skiing outside of Scandinavia which in turn will help the sport grow.

    I think Northug’s “antics” are great for the sport. I’d rather watch that than Teichmann’s poker face…this is Axel happy…this is Axel sad…this is Axel mad, he’s like a robot.

  • genegold

    March 12, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    My, oh my, how most of the commenters have short memories. How about Zorzi and other Italians refusing to take the pull in the distance relays, vs. the Norwegians, and how the Norwegians and just about everyone else felt about that? And has everyone forgotten – or never learned or seen – the long-distance duel between Daehlie and Vladimir Smirnov, where they exchanged leads many times, and afterwards Daehlie invited Smirnov to the Norwegian party, where he congratulated him as a great competitor and sportsman. Unlike us dog-eat-dog Americans, who’ll come up with any excuse to justify that approach except when we are its victims and the sour grapes and whining come out, much of the world understands what it means to compete hard while showing professional respect (Ironically, I’ll bet most of these gung-ho commenters voted for Obama, too).

    Northug is an unusual talent and will probably be at or near the top of the podium for years to come. But it seems that his maturing into worthy representative of the sport will be a bit slower in coming.

  • nordic_dave

    March 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Here here Gene! Pass that post race pitcher around for all to drink and toast! Aah who can forget those German’s who jumped the gun and had a kegger before the last WC was over. Not so poker faced there uh er rather uh something else “faced”.

    My favorite memory of Zorzi, playing games with Aalsgard
    in the 4x10k relay at the 2002 Olympics. He lost at the line
    to the great CHAMPION and threw a fit for losing. Aalsgard skied clean smiled at Zorzi for being an immature child after the race was over. Best part was watching him 10 feet away did stare Zorzi down at the top of Hermod’s Hill. Even took the lead as Zorzi drafted him down the hill into the stadium. Great memories of a great CHAMPION!

  • Tim Kelley

    March 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I would imagine another reason veteran World Cup racers snipe at Northug is because of his age. In a sport where many of the top competitors have invested 10 to 15 years of their lives exclusively to hard and focused training, it’s tough for them to get their butts kicked by a kid. I personally think this is cool to see. It shows that talent is what makes champions. And talent is something you can see in a champion at an early age. The myth that it takes many years of 800-1000 hours of training per year to be the best in the world in cross country skiing when you are 30ish – is clearly shattered by Northug.

  • Jamey Holstein

    March 14, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Northug is exactly the kind of personality we need to make x-c skiing exciting, intersting and cool to those outside of the established North American racing scene. We have a very limited and tired talent pool of talent we draw upon (essentially the kids of those who raced in college, and of an elite, highly educated,upper class social stratum). Northug, and those like him, can only help to make our sport populular with those that currently have no interest. I say let ’em duke it out in the mdiea and on the trails, and may the toughest bastard win! Bring on the sposnsors, bring on the blood!

  • nordic_dave

    March 15, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Aah snowmobiling X games, motocross and of course who doesn’t have number 3 or number 8 on the back of their pick ups? Yes I’m quite sure we’ve missed a huge opportunity for marketing to those who didn’t attend school in New England. Imagine all the snowmobile bars we could be showing Petter Northug in. Very impressive idea. I know lets just get to it and it becomes like roller derby with designated enforcers.
    A few big guys to take Petter the bad boy out. They could paint themselves up, CUZE after all PRO RASSLIN’ ( One of the world’s toughest sports) is where the big money is at not on skinny skis and they are the true hero’s in my life like Captain Insano and the Missisippi Mudhens with the great CHAMPION The Waterboy !

    You guys just crack me up…..keep trying though!

  • ADS

    March 16, 2009 at 12:33 am

    @nordic_dave ……ummmm I don’t understand your last post….are you drunk?

  • nordic_dave

    March 16, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Nah actually it was after a nap. Sorry if you didn’t get it.
    Point is how do we “cheapin” sport to an everyday helping of trash. “The Waterboy” is a parady of many things. Sellin’ sport as entertainment just so people will watch it on TV should not be the reason a sport exists yet it is what many people are centered on a measurement of the sport by. Ahh and for those that do live by this measurement, Hockey a tough sport, learned a tough lesson a few years back and cleaned it up. So much more enjoyable to watch skating not thugs high sticking and fighting for “blood” . The NBA also learned to tone down the “gansta rappa’s” as it wasn’t helping any. I have already mentioned the Olympics and NFL and NCAA Football.

    You see the point is as we teach our kids here ( and I’m sure they do the same in much of Europe) to play sports in which to build character. Most of us compete everyday in our jobs without a podium in which to be recognized as an idol. Win or lose to conduct yourself in a certain manner. It is not about chest thumping “it’s all about me Petter Northug” style. Any parent watching this ANTIC goes into horror at a little league game/ match or meet. Why would we have a different std. for Petter and or any other adult athlete?

    Snowmobiling, motocross x games, ( I forgot, jet skiers) well sorry nothing against them as a sport I guess, I once actually met some great guys who were serious moto cross competitors. One guy actually ended doing the ski across Finalnd tour. Yet the by product of the multiple “wanna be’s” who emulate those activities is not a pretty sight.

    Nice discussion though from those who feel differently but not but am very glad it appears the survey says otherwise.


  • Reese

    March 21, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Look at the young cyclist Mark Cavendish. The parallels betwwen him and Northug are uncanny, yet I haven’t heard of anyone questioning his lack of champion-ness. As he proved this morning with his Milan-SanRemo win, if he is in the lead group of any race, Cavendish will win at the line. He is younger and less experienced than the majority of his competition. And he openly touts himself as the fastest cyclist around. But no can can argue, because he delivers with rediculous consistency.

    Not fitting into the old-school “gentlemans sport” image really has no bearing on Cavendish’s level of champion-ness. And it shouldn’t on Northug’s either.

  • Mike Trecker

    March 23, 2009 at 7:15 am

    I was just going to talk about Cav myself, he is truly humble but in the face of tough competition and the thrill of victory, he has laid out some brash victory salutes and quotes that can be mis-interpreted or wrongly perceived due to reporters or language barriers.

    Northug may lack some manners but I wonder if some of his “comments in the press” have been mis-understood? Regarding his “champion” status, although I have to admit I liked Alsgaard’s personality more, Northug is a phenomenon and it can’t be denied that he is a crushing champion. However, huge congrats to Cologna for holding him off and taking the overall!!

  • Pingback: Petter Northug, Hero or Punk….

  • thhoff

    January 23, 2011 at 1:50 am

    It’s ridiculous to witness so-called endurance “racers” bash a guy (Northug) that is as endurant as anyone, and still manages to pull off these beastly finishes over and over again.
    If thats not endurnce, then what is?

    I’ve personally met Petter, and he’s truly an exceptional skiier.
    The reason why he’s able to pull of these finishes time after time is his exceptional racing head.
    You endurance naggers should try to pull your max for a 1 hour race, and still be able to push out nearly 100% performance at the end…
    None of you can, and thats why Northug will forever be at the top for these types of races

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