From strippers to Cirque Du Soleil, there’s a lot to see in Las Vegas. But one spectacle setting up for this July is strange even by Sin City’s standards: a rollerski race between Olympic gold medalists Petter Northug (NOR) and Marcus Hellner (SWE).
“Hopefully this will be something new in Las Vegas,” said Alex Øystå, editor-in-chief of the Norwegian magazine Vi Menn. “I don’t know how many people use skis there, but I guess not so many.”
The duel between two of the world’s best athletes is an exciting prospect, but it’s not even the main event. That will come when the pair takes to the tables for the 2010 World Series of Poker.
An avid card player, Northug is sponsored by Vi Menn, which organized the promotion and is footing the bill for the Norwegian champion’s $10,000 entry fee. To earn it, Northug had to win a short cross-country ski race last winter against one of Vi Menn’s journalists. (Despite a handicap, Northug eked out the victory with a lunge at the line.)
In an interview with FasterSkier, Øystå said that Hellner has his own sponsor in Sweden that’s paying for his Las Vegas. There’s a good chance that the pair will also play a head-to-head game of poker, outside of the tournament.
The Scandinavian press makes a living from the trumped-up rivalry between the two, so the rollerski race was a no-brainer. Øystå wants to pit Northug and Hellner against some American skiers as well, like Andy Newell or Billy Demong—he said his staff was looking into it.
The exact details of the race haven’t been sorted out, but it should be brutal—highs in Las Vegas in July average 104 degrees.
Though it seems impossible after the attention he drew at the Olympics, Northug-mania appears to be still on the rise. After bouncing out of a warm-up poker tournament in Monte Carlo on Tuesday, Northug was front-page news on the websites of Norway’s largest newspapers. Vi Menn was live-blogging Northug’s bets.
Reporters from Norwegian TV and newspapers will be on hand in Las Vegas, Øystå said, and his magazine—which has a readership of 520,000 in a country of less than 5 million—has been promoting the event relentlessly.
“It’s kind of exotic,” Øystå said. “People coming from the North Pole and using skis in Vegas—I think you can actually have a pretty good story on that.”
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.