It’s hard to disagree with that label. The skiing history is full of medal hopefuls who have trained too much or too hard leading up to a major event, be it the Olympics or the World Championships, but Petter Northug has never in his life entered a major event without riding a peak (see statistics below).
Says Norwegian National Team Morten Aa Djupvik, “To date, there is nobody who is better at nailing the peaking plan leading into the major events.”
Aa Djupvik gets particularly excited when he talks about the details – how Northug will train, rest and eat up to the main goal of the season. He firmly believes that Northug will nail his peak for Holmenkollen, and the performance Northug delivered in the last days of the Tour de Ski has done nothing to shake the coach’s confidence.
“It has been this way ever since Petter was a junior. He needs a lot of races to hit his stride. This season he got off to a late start – at Beitostoelen he went home and he sat out the first couple of World Cup weekends. So his peaking curve has been a little delayed this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Aa Djupvik said to Norwegian television station NRK.
In the beginning of December, Northug promised NRK that he would be in very good shape during Tour de Ski, but as mentioned, he just kept improving as the brutal event progressed. The second to last stage he won the classic race, and convincingly won every single preem/sprint between the start and the finish.
Sunday he climbed the monster hill better than ever before, and earned accolades from Vegard Ulvang, among others.
“He impresses me immensely. I think this is one of the best races he has skied in his career,” Ulvang said to NRK.
“Dead” last season – full power this year
There was a lot of talk surrounding the 25-year-old’s fitness and condition earlier this season. After the FIS season opener at Beitostoelen (NOR), everyone seemed to agree that Northug was over trained, and speculations were made that his World Championship season was ruined. Later, when Northug resurfaced on the racing scene, several experts were worried he had lost his signature fear-inducing sprinting capacity.
“We were never that concerned, and it adds confidence that Petter has stuck with more or less the same peaking plan for several years now. The biggest difference this year is that Petter is in better shape after the Tour de Ski than any other season so far,” Aa Djupvik said.
That is confirmed by the center of attention as well.
“I was a lot more tired last year,” Northug said to NRK Sunday after securing second place overall in the 2011 Tour de Ski.
“I had more power in my legs this time. Last year I just felt “dead” and had to fight every meter up here,” he said.
The Peaking Plan
Northug is known to be an intensely focused athlete who shuts everything out that doesn’t bring him closer to the top of the podium
“He’ll soon go back into his own bubble and put up the do not disturb sign,” said Aa Djupvik with a laugh, adding that “Of course, a peaking plan is a lot about physical preparation, but the peaking plan also includes some important mental elements. The margins we’re dealing with are miniscule, and we need to zoom in on the World Championships as early as possible. Petter is very proficient at this, and that helps the rest of us relax,” he explained.
The ability to nail the peaking plan is one of Northug’s trademarks. Here are some stats from earlier championships and major events:
2006 – Olympics in Turin
Was not named to the national team, despite beating the entire established elite in the 30K pursuit at the Norwegian nationals that year. He also played cat and mouse with skate expert Tore Ruud Hofstad when he helped his club Strindheim to the relay gold during the same national championships. This was also the season he exclaimed his famous line “And I am f—ing not going to the Olympics?”
Northug won all (three) individual events during the World Juniors just prior to the Turin Olympics, and of course he helped Norway to the relay gold. Right after the Olympics, he won his first World Cup race.
2007 – World Championships Sapporo
Was peaking for Sapporo in 2007, and pulled off his possibly best and most impressive sprint ever when he completely dominated Russia and Sweden in the last 200 meters of the relay with a finishing touch the world had never seen before.
Two spills probably robbed Northug of more hardware in Sapporo. First, Tor Arne Hetland fell when the two of them raced the team sprint, and two days later, Northug fell himself when he was trying to fight Tobias Angerer, Axel Teichmann, Pietro Piller Cottrer and Jens Filbrich for the gold.
2009 – World Championships in Liberec
Northug was crowned King of the championships – plain and simple. He won the relay gold, the 30K pursuit and the 50K skate. The Norwegian was unbeatable when he pulled off his finishing sprint.
2010 – Olympics in Vancouver
Northug was the king of the Olympics in the cross country. He won the team sprint gold and the 50K classic, one year after he became the World Champion in the marathon event in the skate technique. He also won silver in the relay after an unbelievable anchor leg performance, and bronze in the sprint.
By Gunnar Bøthun, NRK.no, January 10, 2011. Translation by Inge Scheve
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.