Consequences of Northug’s Mess Up Can Be a Lesson (Editorial)

Alex KochonMay 6, 201412
Petter Northug after an exhausting fourth-place finish in Saturday's 15 k classic mass start at 2013 World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus; Cross Country)
An exhausted Petter Northug after finishing fourth in the 15 k classic mass start at 2013 World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden. (Photo: Fischer/Nordic Focus)

Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial based on the recent news regarding Petter Northug’s pending DUI. Facts are juxtaposed with opinion, which belong to the author and do not reflect FasterSkier as a whole. 

Petter Northug screwed up. And now he feels bad, or so he says.

While the news that the 28-year-old Olympic champion and Norwegian bad-a** athlete celebrity drove drunk and crashed his Audi A7 on Sunday morning didn’t come as a complete surprise, it was still a disappointment — to Norwegians, fans around the world and Northug himself.

Petter Northug sealing a relay victory for Norway at the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Petter Northug sealing a relay victory for Norway at the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

After leaving his friend and running to his house just a few hundred meters away from the roundabout crash, which totaled his leased car, Northug answered the door when police knocked just minutes later.

He could’ve hid inside, sobered up, and been charged with leaving the scene of an accident (and ditching his friend). It wouldn’t have been moral, but it might have been smarter.

What Northug did — taking his car out for a joy ride early Sunday morning (around 5 a.m.) while heavily intoxicated — was a bad idea. Ultimately coming clean when police confronted and questioned him, then having his manager blitz together a press release about his mistakes later that day, was the right decision.

At least he’s on the right track … now.

A lot of people don’t like Northug. The guy makes way too much money for being somewhat of a dingleberry. He swears, he doesn’t play nice, and he’s arrogant. But that’s his M.O. in the sometimes dry sport of cross-country skiing. Every exciting drama needs its villain.

Northug never asked to be a role model. His raw talent threw him into the spotlight. A two-time gold medalist at the 2010 Olympics (in the team sprint and 50 k classic), he went on to win the Holmenkollen 50 k skate, making him the first skier to win the 50 k at Holmenkollen, World Championships and the Olympics since Sweden’s Gunde Svan did so in 1988. And Northug was a show stopper as a junior, racking up six golds at Junior World Championships.

Today, Northug is worth several million dollars: $5.8 million according to Some $1.5 to $3.6 million of that (10-20 million kroner) comes from his main sponsor, Coop, an 800-store grocery chain. Coop is in the business of selling juice and bread with Northug’s name on them, according to the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the company should sell beer with his face on its labels, too.

While the execs at Coop have a difficult task ahead of them in deciding whether to stand by Northug or drop him with the help of a contractual exit clause, Northug’s got his own issues to deal with.

He could face jail time, although the prospects of that are unlikely. According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies, the legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) in Norway is below 0.02 percent (compared to 0.08-percent in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, for instance). Getting pulled over with a BAC of 0.02 percent in Norway would warrant a fine and potentially a suspended license in the case of aggravated circumstances.

At 0.05 percent, you’ll get a suspended sentence, your license suspended and a fine; 0.10 percent, a fine, suspended or mandatory sentence, and a suspended license; and 0.15 percent, a mandatory sentence, suspended license and a fine.

Asbjørn Strandbakken, the dean of the University of Bergen’s Faculty of Law, told NRK that the circumstances of Northug’s crash will likely be considered aggravated and the maximum penalty would likely be a year in prison. Driving with a BAC above 0.10-percent usually warrants 21 days to three months in prison, he said.

While Northug’s BAC won’t be released for up to two weeks, pending a police investigation, he described his level of intoxication as high. He had been out with friends the night before partying in Trondheim and returned home early the next day.

“I was so drunk that I was not able to make the right choices,” he told VG, according to a translation. “That was the reason I didn’t leave the car keys alone.

“Around five o’clock people began to go home and some went to bed,” he explained. “It was kind of just me and the passenger in the car who were awake when we decided to go out in the car and drive it. We had no motive for why we were out.”

The rest was history. He went straight through a roundabout, exceeded the speed limit of 40 kilometers per hour (around 25 mph), and off the road into a barrier. He and his friend, the passenger, were OK (police later found the friend beside the car with minor injuries), but the car was totaled. No one else was harmed.

“When we started driving, it was not many hundred meters before we started going to fast and we ran into a roundabout and into the crash barrier,” Northug recalled. “It slammed. Probably both in shock, we asked each other, are you OK? … There was no damage that we saw and the next thing that happens is that I am acting in panic and want to get away.”

Once the police came to his house, Northug went with them to the emergency room for routine checks. Then, he went to the police station for questioning. The interrogation ended around 3 p.m. Sunday, about 10 hours after the accident.

If Northug is fined for a BAC above 0.05 percent, it will cost him at least 1 1/2 months of his base salary — which could add up to a hefty amount. Jail time ranges from three weeks to three months with a maximum of a year. Suspensions can vary from less than a year to two years, according to Norway’s traffic laws. None of this takes into account lawyer fees.

And while Northug might not go to jail (although he was prepared to: “I’m ready to take punishment for this,” he told VG. “I’ll take my punishment, there is no doubt about that.”), he could be put under house arrest or confined to traveling to and from training sessions.

And that might not be a bad thing. Northug has reiterated that he’s sorry, that his judgment was completely flawed, and that he’s going sober from here on out to commit himself to training.

This is a guy who has claimed to be dry (alcohol-free) throughout the racing season. While it’s believable — even for a poker aficionado — maybe drinking a little throughout the winter and not so much at once at the end of the season wouldn’t be a bad idea.

I’m not promoting drinking, and if anything, it’s probably best to stay off the stuff altogether. But the idea of going buck wild for a month or two before training resumes might not be the best one. Not for Northug and not for anyone, especially those who don’t think about the consequences of getting behind the wheel after a night out.

Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon ( is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.

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  • highstream

    May 6, 2014 at 11:55 am

    “I’m not promoting drinking, and if anything, it’s probably best to stay off the stuff altogether. But the idea of going buck wild for a month or two before training resumes might not be the best one. Not for Northug and not for anyone, especially those who don’t think about the consequences of getting behind the wheel after a night out.”

    Funny article, but strange last paragraph (very younger American). I’d hate to live in a world ruled by the morals of “stay off the stuff altogether,” and there’s probably no better time to let loose than between the end of the season and training starts. It’s the last part about thinking that counts (self awareness doesn’t fully mature until the early 20s, and for some people it apparently takes a bit longer).

  • Tim Kelley

    May 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Norway has a strange judicial system. The maximum jail time from drunk driving is one year. But if you mass murder 77 people, like Anders Breivik did, and you only get 21 years. So if you do the math, the penalty for drunk driving is about the same for mass murdering 3.5 people. That makes no sense. But then again, the Norwegians giving a Nobel Peace Prize to a US president that has two wars going and uses drones to target the assassinations of hundreds makes no sense either. Well, at least Norwegians are consistent in not making judicial sense.

  • faceshots

    May 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I would say the Norgs have come along way from the Blood Eagle… but they may want to reinstitute it in the case of Anders Breivik.

  • nonamerica

    May 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    To Tim Kelley: Btw is´nt Nobel price swedish not norwegian price
    Another artical had black humor comment about this: Northug and Breivik can practice biathlon together in prison

  • nate

    May 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    The Nobel Peace prize is the one that is given out in Norway. The others are given out in Sweden.

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    May 6, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Norwegian women are hot.

  • BRB Skiing

    May 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I fine mix of irrelevance and ignorance in the comment section. If Breivik is relased after 21 years I’ll buy you a non-wrecked Audi of your choosing.

    (Can’t disagree that the Obama Piece Prize was an absolute joke, it was awarded by an independent committee that happens to be Norwegian though, not by “the Norwegians”).

  • Martin Hall

    May 6, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    Well, the Nor NST comes out of this looking very professional and well thought out—straight arming him with non team naming and then coming to support him in this personal dilemma—-real smart and cool.
    Mentor??—he doesn’t get to choose, the kids do—-and he has to realize this is how it happens and start to act accordingly—like a grown up which he hasn’t been doing very well up to this point. Big responsibilities come with big dollars—that’s the way it is. Time to get on the big horse and preform like an adult.
    Now it is going to be interesting to watch how the gendarmes meter out the punishment as they can’t be interfering with those all important training hours!!! Can’t you see the cops hill running with poles packing a side arm and handcuffs, or shooting down a downhill on roller skis with a machine gun hanging off there shoulder.
    It is going to be interesting to Thomas Zipfel’s comedic rendering of Petter in his black and white striped training suit.

  • T.Eastman

    May 7, 2014 at 2:51 am

    The ankle bracelet may cause some muscle imbalance…

  • campirecord

    May 7, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Lots of interesting comments on binge drinking and judicial system… Not sure if they are American based, Norway certainly has a weird way of doing things but obviously it seems Americans only know the right way, hence why I shudder seeing university kids sprawling the streets of Quebec City during school break, binge drinking and getting into fights, while we were brought up with a glass of watered down wine as early teens. Apparently, the new black is campus sexual aggression with ivy league kids…Sweds or Norwegians, has you have it, probably also have weird sexual social behaviour… Their liberalism is well documented and surely it’s all wrong in the land of the nucelar mass weapons of the Sadam al Qaida boys… Right ?

  • oneoldguy

    May 8, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    campirecord say what?

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