The most recognizable name in cross-country skiing and the 2013 overall World Cup champion has decided to ski independently of the his National Team next season. Petter Northug, Jr., held a press conference on Wednesday with Norwegian National team cross-country head Åge Skinstad to announce that instead of signing a contract with the Norwegian Ski Federation he will compete for a private team in 2013-2014.
“I’ve been on the team for many years and wants to go in new directions,” Northug told the press.
Northug was reportedly given until late May to decide whether to rejoin the national team for another year. On Wednesday he said his decision to leave came from wanting more control over his own training and daily life leading up to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
“Now I’ve been around for many years, and I will manage things [myself],” Northug said. “I will be my own captain until the season starts.”
Asked if his independent status will become permanent, Northug wasn’t be sure. Skinstad said Northug would be welcome back to the national team if he decided to return.
In practical terms, Northug’s new independence gives him autonomy over his training schedule. But it also eliminates national team support at international competition.
“All support from the Norwegian Ski Association — funding and support, [waxing] team and medical team — lapses,” Skinstad said according to Aftenposten.
TV2 reported last week that Norwegian supermarket chain Coop is willing to pay millions for a sponsorship agreement with Northug, which the skier declined to comment on.
Northug also plans to ski with a newly-formed team, the details of which are still in the works.
“Details of those around me are not set in stone,” he said. “We’ll come back to [it] when it falls into place.”
While Skinstad expressed disappointment in Northug’s decision, reports described the joint press conference as amicable. The national team has left its doors open for Northug to return.
While Northug is a popular public figure in Norway, Skinstand said his team was bigger than a single athlete.
“Cross-country skiing is much more than Petter Northug,” Skinstad told Aftenposten. “Marit Bjørgen is the most popular athlete in the country and Therese Johaug is as popular as Petter … no skier can be bigger than the national team.”
Head coach Trond Nystad, who was not present at the press conference, told the NRK on Wednesday that Northug’s departure would not significantly hurt his team.
“We were eight before Peter decided to retire. Now we have seven,” he said. “We had 10 of 12 podium finishes at the end of the season, and it was not Peter who took [them] all. We have a strong team with or without him.”
While he will train independently of the national team this summer, Skinstad indicated that Northug would be able to compete for Norway on the World Cup and at the Olympics.
“What I’m happy about is that we have a common goal, the Olympic Games in Sochi and the Tour de Ski,” he said.