Fighting Over Tears on Public TV

Inge ScheveApril 13, 20115

In a book published in Norway on April 12, John Northug – Petter Northug’s father and manager – says he has never witnessed a more severe invasion of privacy than what he saw when the Norwegian government-supported TV station NRK transmitted Northug’s victory tears from the finish line at 2011 World Championships in Holmenkollen in February.

Sunday February 27, 2011, Petter Northug became the World Champion of the 30K mass start pursuit. It was Northug’s first World Championship gold medal in Holmenkollen. National team head coach Morten aa Djupvik was equipped with a miniature microphone from NRK when he went over to Northug in the paddock. The world Champion was crying, while his dad John displayed his joy on live on VGTV from the stands.

Already the next day John Northug announced to the Norwegian online newspaper VG Nett that he was upset with the national TV station’s handling of the situation. In a book launched this week titled “Gull og Grønne Svensker” (literal translation: “Gold and Green Swedes”) written by Thorkild Gundersen, a journalist writing for the men’s magazine “Vi Menn” (translation: “Us Men”), the manager/dad is lashing out at the media and NRK in particular.

“This is exactly what we’ve worked so hard at – protecting him the first seconds after he crosses the finish line, allowing him some privacy and staying out of his intimate zone right after the race is over. Now, I don’t think this incident damaged Petter’s image, but at the same time, I think NRK is going far across the line by broadcasting the sound track along with the images, and showing it on TV at the same time as they filmed Petter’s reaction to the broadcast from the couch in the TV studio. This is about the principle of privacy,” John Northug says in the book.

Petter Northug was shown the footage of himself on the couch while he was in the studio with NRK reporter Espen Graff a few hours later, without knowing that NRK filmed him crying.

“When I was sitting there on the couch I didn’t particularly enjoy the footage and the sound track. But it wasn’t something that made me mad at NRK, I was just so incredibly happy over the gold medal that I gladly handled seeing myself cry on TV,” Petter Northug said in the book.

“The inconvenience of seeing myself sob on TV was something I just decided to forgive and forget. There was so much more left of the Championships and I just thought it would be stupid to spend any energy on being annoyed,” he explained.

However, John Northug experienced the episode as extremely invasive.

“It felt like an extreme invasion of privacy as it was happening. And to put it bluntly: After dealing with ‘Se og Hør’ (Ed. Norway’s Number 1 celebrity magazine) trailing our footsteps for five years, we’ve become used to a fair amount of media presence, but nothing they have done has been anywhere close to this,” John Northug said.

Norwegian Ski Association’s media spokesman Otto Ulseth explained that he had a stern discussion with Norwegian national coach Morten Aa Djupvik after this incident.

“Morten apologized to Petter immediately after we had talked,” Ulseth said to VG.

NRK sports editor Rune Haug also apologized.

“We understand the issue John Northug brought up, and we recognize that we used bad judgment in this case by not informing Petter Northug about what he would see from the couch in the TV studio that night. I can understand that Petter felt a little caught off guard,” Haug said to VG.

Norway’s national team director Åge Skinstad explained that in general, they are careful about using microphones around the racers.

“This is an incident we quickly put behind us. The microphone Morten was wearing was the last thing he was thinking about when he ran out to greet Petter in the paddock after the race,” Skinstad recalled.

From, April 12, 2011 By Camilla Vesteng, translation by Inge Scheve

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.

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  • Skidfan

    April 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Badly done by NRK? Don’t think so. Northug and every other victor out there gets swamped by media, if he don’t like it? Don’t compete.

    Ulseth has a long record of poor judgement in a short while as Northug’s PR-man.

    Maybe NRK will start to “respect” Northugs “privacy” when Northug starts to respect his fellow competitors.

  • Howdy

    April 13, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    As they say at the Aspen Daily News; “If You Don’t Want It Printed, Don’t Let It Happen.”

  • Sandrine

    April 13, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I kind of agree with Skidfan in that the filming and recording of his reaction at the end of the race didn’t strike me as an invasion of privacy per se. It’s a public event and he is in a very public area so that seems fair play to me. And like it was pointed out in norwegian medias, nothing that was said then was of a very private nature and/or could hurt Northug’s profile: if anything, it’s had a very positive impact on the way he’s perceived by the public. However, the real issue brought up by John Northug, from what I could pick up reading the norwegian newspapers, was that they showed Petter the pictures that evening during that tv show without giving him any warning that this had been recorded and that he would see it on the set. That’s at least what NRK has apologized for.

    Again, I don’t think it’s that bad and Petter Northug himself has left the issue well alone and has never really complained. The only (very tongue-in-cheek) comment he made during the Championship that I am aware of was that as a result he would have to work hard to rebuild his image as a “tough guy”

    The noise in the media has really been made by John Northug and Ulseth. I must say that, I can see where John Northug, as a father, may come from: I don’t think he’s right, I think it’s overdramatic, but I can understand that he might be upset by it.

    Ulseth on the other hand has no excuses. And for someone who was appointed press contact for the men’s norwegian team mostly in order to shield Northug during the period leading up to the World Championships, he surely has had a strange way of doing it. He’s certainly managed to make a lot of noise out of seemingly minor issues, this being only the last in a series o_0

  • Mike Trecker

    April 14, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Echoing Howdy’s remarks. Welcome to the big time Northugs. It’s a two way street, when you say look at me, look at me, look at me, everyone will eventually keep looking even when you don’t want them to. Anyone remember Laurent Fignon collapsing on the Champs Elysees having thought he had just won the Tour only to find out that Greg Lemond had snatched victory? Distraught, heart broken, crushed… sure there were tears, that’s part of the story. Perhaps you just need to escape, isolate yourself with all your riches, maybe even buy a big boat and name it Privacy.

  • BRB Skiing

    April 16, 2011 at 6:07 am

    Well, there’s media attention you’ll have to expect, and then there’s a hidden mike you’re unaware of stuck in your face seconds after you passed the finish line totally exhausted. I think the media should leave him a little private space, although I do not think this whole issue was a big deal.

    Skidfan: Northug’s behavior towards his opponents has nothing to do with this issue at all. But I’m happy for you that you managed to stick it in there. No reason to stop bitching about it even if the season is over and, and a guy like Hellner seem to be fine with it. Kämpa för jantelagen!

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