SWEDEN – “I would not do what Petter does. I’ve never felt bothered by kids are asking for autographs,” Marcus Hellner told Norwegian newspaper VG, when they talked to the Swede in Ramsau, Austria.
While Hellner understands that Northug wants to be shielded from the crowds in order to stay focused in his pursuit of five gold medals at the World Championships on home turf, that’s not the right approach for him. Hellner loves the limelight and would rather err on the side of overdoing it a little.
“I don’t know how Petter thinks, but I feel that you’ve got to find a balance between focus on the competition and the relationship with the fans,” Hellner explained.
Similar but different
Both Hellner and Northug won two gold medals each at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but at the last World Championships, in Liberec (CZE) 2009, Northug won three gold medals while Hellner earned none.
“The interest in cross-country skiing is much bigger in Norway than in Sweden. I understand that there is a huge pressure on Petter. Even though we both won two gold medals at the Olympics, he won the overall World Cup and had more strong performances throughout the season. He has improved the level of international cross-country skiing,” Hellner said.
All about Oslo 2011
During the Swedish team camp in Austria, the skiers are working hard to prepare for the upcoming World Championship season. A typical day starts with a ski workout on the glacier, followed by a dryland workout in the afternoon.
“I’m really excited about the World Championships in Holmenkollen, but it’s hard to predict at which event I have the best chances to medal,” said Hellner, who won the pursuit and the relay at the 2010 Olympics.
In the pursuit, Northug was skiing with the lead group until Hellner accidentally skied over his pole and broke it, destroying Northug’s shot at a medal. According to Hellner, the two of them have talked it over and put the incident behind them.
“I never intentionally stepped on his pole. It was an accident. Those things happen in a mass start when people jockey for positions,” Hellner told VG. The relationship between the two racers further improved during their Las Vegas poker tournament trip this summer.
“I really like Petter. He is sympathetic and he is an amazing athlete. He is really different one-on-one than he comes across in the media, but he seems to have decided on certain image when he talks to the media,” he said.
More than just sprints
Hellner admits that he often thinks about Northug’s fierce finish surges during his workouts.
“But there are several ways to win a cross-country ski race. A sprint finish is not the only option. I am focusing on determining the outcome well ahead of a sprint to the finish,” Hellner said.
From Langd.se, September 23, 2010 By Kjell Erik Kristiansen, translation by Inge Scheve, FasterSkier
Inge is FasterSkier's international reporter, born and bred in Norway. A cross-country ski racer and mountain runner, she also dabbles on two wheels in the offseason. If it's steep and long, she loves it. Follow her on Twitter: @IngeScheve.