Rigidity bars Norway greats from Olympics

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States

Petter Northug Olympic Games suspension

Photo: Frankie Fouganthin / Wikimedia Commons
Petter Northug wins a sprint in Stockholm’s Royal Palace Sprint in 2013. He is always a fun competitor to watch, but you won’t get to watch him in the upcoming Olympic Games.

Fredrik Stokvik
Ås, Norway

The 23rd Winter Olympic Games will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, from Feb. 9 to 25, 2018, and the competition’s commencement is only days away. But due to overly rigid rules, two of Norway’s most popular medal candidates will not be attending.

One of these is Therese Johaug, who holds three medals from participation in previous Olympic Games. Among other achievements, she holds a gold medal from Vancouver and a silver and bronze from Sochi. Johaug is currently out of the competition due to an 18-month suspension arising from a positive doping test on the anabolic steroid clostebol. Johaug was initially sentenced to a 13-month suspension, however, after an appeal from the International Ski Federation, the case was brought up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). CAS increased the suspension to 18 months, which resulted in Johaug’s dream to compete in this year’s Olympic Games shattering. Johaug is at the moment not included on Norway’s national ski team, but she has assembled her own team to help her with training and is determined to compete in the next world championship in Seefeld, Austria 2019.

I think Johaug’s suspension is too harsh. The sentence does not reflect the non-gravity of the crime: Johaug used the wrong salve for a sore lip and ended up with an illegal substance in her body. This was done by accident, and the level of clostebol was not high enough to give any performance boost. It was also done off-season, and she did not compete in any races with the substance in her body. I agree that there should be zero tolerance for use of these substances, but a 13-month suspension was more than enough penalty for this crime.

The other Norwegian candidate who won’t be attending the Olympic Games is Petter Northug. A double Olympic champion, Northug holds six medals from earlier Winter Olympic Games, including two gold medals from Vancouver in 2010, and 16 World Cup medals.

Petter Northug is in a special position; he has his own team off-season and rejoins the national team for training once the season begins. Northug has been running this scheme in order to train the way he believes is best suited for him and also to control the media circus surrounding him. There have been many arguments around Northug’s team and many people believe that he is in the position of missing the games because of it. However, it is important to look at the previous season to understand the scope of the problem. In the 2016/2017 season, Northug had an issue with being over-trained. After a stay at high altitude, he pushed himself too hard and his body almost shut down. This ruined the season for him, and speculation began that his career was over.

At the start of this season, Northug was sick and unable to compete in the national opening at Beitostølen in Norway. He was given a chance to compete in the World Cup at Lillehammer, Norway, but was still troubled with sickness and did not qualify for the sprint. This resulted in a downward spiral for Northug’s current season. Since he did not perform at Lillehammer, he was not drafted for any other World Cup events before Christmas. Northug was hoping to attend Tour de Ski, but the national team decided not to draft him. He was offered a place in the World Cup in Planica, Slovenia, but was unfortunately out again with parainfluenza. On Jan. 22, the Norwegian Ski Federation publicly announced that Northug was not chosen for the Norwegian men’s team competing in the World Championship in Seefeld. This put the nail in the coffin for Northug’s hope to participate in this year’s Olympic Games.

The 2017-2018 season has not been good for Petter Northug, but the blame should be divided between the national team and Northug’s own team. He has faced a lot of troubles with sickness and has lost some training and races, but the national team has been blocking him from the races he wanted to attend, especially Tour de Ski.

In an Olympic season, competitors with winning records such as Johaug or Northug should be allowed to choose more freely what contests they want to attend. They are experienced competitors with a winning mentality and the whole picture should be taken into account, not just how they perform at a few single races during the season. The Olympics will not be the same without those two.

Fredrik Stokvik is a native Norwegian undertaking a master’s in civil engineering with great interest in both cross-country skiing and watching winter sports.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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