Northug and Other Top Distance Skiers Missing from Start List in Olympic 15 k

Chelsea LittleFebruary 14, 20147
Petter Northug of Norway competing in the freestyle sprint qualifier on Sunday. Northug went on to qualify for the semifinals and finish 10th overall.
Petter Northug of Norway competing in the freestyle sprint qualifier on Sunday. Northug went on to qualify for the semifinals and finish 10th overall.

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SOCHI, Russia – When 92 men head out on course at the Laura cross-country venue today, the most famous Norwegian skier will not be among them.

Petter Northug Jr., who won the 15 k freestyle at World Championships last season, will not be contesting the classic version of the event here at the Olympics. Northug, a gold medalist in both the 50 k and the team sprint at the last Olympics, has entered two racse here in Sochi so far. He finished 17th in the 30k skiathlon, almost a minute and a half behind gold medalist Dario Cologna of Switzerland. In the freestyle sprint, where he finished 10th after being bumped out in the semifinals.

Norwegian coach Vidar Lofshus told FasterSkier that Northug is sitting out the 15 k in an effort to get in better race form in time for Sunday’s 4 x 10 k relay, where Norway is a favorite to win.

“We’re hoping that he’ll feel better for the relay, so hopefully he’ll be in better shape,” Lofshus said. “He’s not definitely going to race it, but hopefully he is going to race it.”

This season, Northug has not been able to find his usual speed or fitness. He finished 6th in the 15 k classic World Cup before the Olympics in Toblach, Italy; at Norwegian national championships just before that, he was third in the 30 k skiathlon. His only victories have been in a stage of the Tour de Ski (where he finished fourth overall) and in the La Sgambeda ski marathon in Livigno, Italy.

“It’s hard to tell, but he had a really hard summer and fall with sickness,” Lofshus said of the cause of Northug’s struggles. “That’s the main reason. It’s not any harder to explain than that… He’s trying to rest now because he has been training a lot coming into the Olympics just trying to get into the level. We’ll see.”

As to the final decision of whether Northug will join the relay team or not, Lofshus said that was still undecided and to some extent up to Northug himself, or at least based on what Northug tells coaches about his fitness and feeling.

“It’s mostly his own feeling,” Lofshus said. “He won’t race if he’s not in top shape… I think he is, right now, he is having a good time I think. He is pretty sure of himself that he’s coming back.”

Another surprising name missing from Friday’s start list was Alexander Legkov, the Russian who won the 15 k classic race held in Italy just before the Olympics.

Legkov trains separately from the Russian national team; his coach, Reto Burgermeister, told FasterSkier on Thursday that Legkov’s absence was based on a decision by the Russian Ski Federation.

He wouldn’t directly answer a question about whether Legkov – currently ranked third in the overall World Cup standings and the top Russian – had wanted to compete in the Olympic 15 k, instead noting the strength of the other Russian men entered in the race.

Legkov was the third Russian in the 30 k skiathlon, finishing 11th overall and just 27 seconds behind the leader. Maxim Vylegzhanin placed fourth after getting possibly obstructed by Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby in the finishing lanes, and Ilia Chernousov was fifth, 13 seconds behind the lead pack of four men. Russia’s fourth starter, Evgeniy Belov, placed 19th.

Burgermeister acknowledged that the Russian cross-country team’s results at the Olympics so far – they haven’t won a single medal in cross country skiing – have been inadequate, and that they were under pressure to ski faster.

Belov is the only starter from the 30 k who was given the opportunity to compete in the 15 k. Vylegzhanin and Chernousov, the 8th- and 10th-ranked distance skiers in the world, were also cut. Replacing the three are Dmitry Japarov, ranked 15th in the distance standing; Stanislav Volzhentsev, ranked 22nd; and Alexander Bessmertnykh, ranked 31st. The trio have six World Cup top-10’s between them this season, half of which came in stages of mini-tours or the Tour de Ski.

Finally, also sitting out are: Johannes Duerr, the Austrian who is ranked seventh in  distance skiing and sixth in the overall World Cup standings; Sjur Røthe, the Norwegian ranked 11th in distance skiing and ninth in the World Cup; and Maurice Manificat of France, who won a 15 k World Cup in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this season.

Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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  • shreddir

    February 14, 2014 at 7:10 am

    I don’t see how Norway can be considered a relay favorite now. Sundby and Eldar Roenning were shocking in today’s 15k classic. They won’t be able to give Norway a lead in the first 2 classic legs. Northug seems demoralized right now and doesn’t have that explosive jump skate to blow up the pack as they head up the final rise before the final sprint into the stadium. Norway has no feared anchor leg. I think the Swedes over all have the strongest relay. Norwegian press will be screaming for heads to roll if they get pushed off the podium by the Russians and Finns.

  • timg

    February 14, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Results? FIS website has them already! Cologna wins!

  • chrispella

    February 14, 2014 at 7:52 am

    There was a Petter Northug Jr. in the skiathlon race. It may have been another guy with the same name…
    The Russians are so deep in classic skiers they could afford to rest Legkov and Chernousov for the relay and the 50K. Other than that, the best classic skiers were represented today. Northug hasn’t been at the top of his form anyways, so saving his energy for the relay would be a good strategic move.
    The Swedes just seem to have nailed the peaking process. I think the fact that they just don’t produce the numbers of elite skiers that Norway does gives them more flexibility in their programme. The Norwegians have to show up for early season races just to get considered for the team, whereas the top Swedish skiers can train through them or race very sparingly and prepare themselves at home, like Olsson does. I read an article on an Italian site about Olsson that talks about his method

    In an attempt to win the individual success in a competition at Five circles decided to train harder than ever, bringing his body to extreme”. “Knowing that this will be my last summer as an athlete I decided to seek perfection. Having won the world title in the 50 km I can afford to risk something more maximizing workloads,” said Scandinavian who said will not participate in the Tour de Ski: “last year after three days I realized that I no longer have a chance of winning and it was very frustrating. The format does not suit me, so I will focus on Sochi where I have a chance ; successful. ” Olsson, 34 in March next year, it will hang the skis to the nail at the end of winter” and can be categorized as cosiddeti “late bloomer”, or athletes exploded into old age

    There’s a guy who knows his body and what works best for him.
    I contrast that with something I read from Justin Wadsworth saying the Canadian men toned down the training last summer in the hopes of peaking at the Olympics. I don’t think that has worked so well so far.
    Cologna, and Olsson collectively raced only a few world cup races this year. Both had injuries and illnesses but were in great shape after the summer. Kalla and Bjoergen both skipped the Tour de Ski. Kind of makes you wonder whether racing heavily in an Olympic year is such a great strategy. You can only go so deep into the pain cave a limited number of times.

  • Chelsea Little

    February 14, 2014 at 8:01 am

    The article has been updated with the skiathlon results – thanks for pointing that out! Some things get lost in the shuffle here in Sochi.

  • Morten

    February 14, 2014 at 8:17 am


    Sundby will ski the third leg of the relay, so you’re right in saying he won’t be able to give Norway the lead in either of the first two legs. Chris Jespersen will race the first leg and either Rønning or Golberg will race the second. My money is on Rønning.

    I don’t really see the Norwegian press “screaming for heads to roll” if Norway doesn’t medal either. The focus from the thus far this season has been speculating whether or not Northug would be in greater shape had he stayed with the national team instead of branching out on his own.

    I do agree that Norway is no longer the favourite for the gold, the results on the mens side so far has made sure of that.


    When asked Chernousov said he didn’t know why he was not allowed to ski the 15k today, so I don’t think it’s a question of him and Legkov getting rest, but the fact that they made a choice to be outside the national team – something that has caused quite a lot of animosity between them and Yelena Välbe.

    “I think the fact that they just don’t produce the numbers of elite skiers that Norway does gives them more flexibility in their programme” << Maybe, but Norway still has won more gold medals than Sweden, so I for one am quite pleased that we have a lot of quality skiers to choose from! 🙂

  • chrispella

    February 14, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Legkov, Chernousov and their trainer Isabel were staying at the same hotel as we were in Toblack a few years ago. There was discussion about the issues causing them to split from the team. It seems like a very authoritarian sporting structure they have which reflects the political system. But given all the pressure to get medals I wonder whether even their pigheaded federation leader would risk holding back their top skiers without thinking of the downstream payback. Or maybe she is just as petty and vindictive as she seems.

  • Lars

    February 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

    We might have Sweden beat in medals but given the potential of aour squad both in xc skiing and othervise i think its fair to say these Olympics have so far been a disappointment.
    But its important to know that as disappointed as some of us fans are. The athletes likely feel much worse. I mean they devote there life to this we just turn in and watch them preform.

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