Hard fall from grace

Petter Northug charged with three offenses; one of most decorated cross-country skiers of all time in legal trouble again

Petter Northug

Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB scanpix
Petter Northug, one of the most decorated Norwegian cross-country skiers of all time, appeared at a press conference in Trondheim, Aug. 21, where he spoke about his most recent legal problems: speeding—168km/hr in 110km-zone—driving under the influence of, and possession of drugs, on Aug. 13. “I have failed again, and I want to apologize to everyone involved. I have done a lot I am ashamed of in the pursuit of excitement and intense experiences. Now, things have gone awry, and I need help. I’m not blaming anyone. This is my own fault. I expect no sympathy. I only have myself to blame.”

JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
Oslo

Former cross-country skier and double Olympic champion Petter Northug has been charged with speeding, driving under the influence and possession of cocaine. Northug, 34, was apprehended by police after driving 104 mph in a 68-mph zone on his way back home to Oslo after appearing at a skiing camp for children in Trysil on Aug. 13. He has admitted to all charges.

Northug broke the news himself via his own Instagram page, where he described the incident as a big mistake on his part. The police confirmed the incident later that night and told the press that Northug had narcotics in his system at the time of the incident and that they found a small amount of cocaine at Northug’s residence.

The athlete was charged with reckless driving at high speed, driving under the influence of narcotics, and possession of narcotics. Norwegian case law implies that he will be facing prison time. This is further reinforced by the fact that he is not a first-time offender.

In May 2014, in Trondheim, after a long night of drinking, Northug drove under the influence of alcohol and crashed his car through a roundabout, into a traffic barrier. After the accident, Northug fled the scene, but was located by police in his home a few hours later. Northug was sentenced to 50 days of suspended prison time. He accepted the verdict and waived his right to an appeal.

Northug has been one of the most high-profile Norwegian athletes and celebrities since his breakthrough in 2006. He has won 13 World Championships and two Olympic gold medals and is seen as one of the best cross-country skiers of all time.

The Norwegian cross-country team’s image is built on striving to be good role models for coming generations. Their core values, according to their website, are joy, community, health, and honesty. Northug has been known for being a bit of of a rebel, but his former teammates reacted with shock and disbelief when the incident and subsequent charges went public.

Petter Northug

Photo: Olav Stubberud / Red Bull Content
Two Norwegian cross-country legends, Petter Northug (left) and Bjørn Dæhlie (right) meet at the Red Bull Janteloppet at Mosetertoppen on April 13, 2019 (after each’s retirement). Northug has encountered problems in recent years, most recently charged with speeding, driving under the influence of and possession of drugs on Aug. 13. The Norwegian Ski Association said in a press release: “The ski association is happy that Petter Northug says that he realizes the seriousness of what has happened and wants professional help. It is important to emphasize that the Ski Association wants to give Northug all the support and help he needs, regardless of the decision related to the commercial cooperation.”

“It’s a shock to us all. Let us hope Petter gets back on his feet as soon as possible,” Didrik Tønseth told Trønder-Avisa, a local newspaper in Trøndelag.

“At first, we thought it was fake news, but we realized pretty quickly that it was true,” Finn-Hågen Krogh said in the same article in Trønder-Avisa. “It is just sad. Let us just hope Petter himself is doing okay, and that he gets the help he needs. We hope he gets out of this and that he gets better. We will always support Petter.”

Emil Iversen and Nicklas Dyrhaug, both cross-country skiers and close friends with Northug, shed tears when asked about Northug in post-race interviews. Northug’s father, John Northug, admitted that his son has struggled with the transition from an active career, a thought his son did not question. 

“I lack the structure in everyday life that I had as a practitioner…become part of a wrong environment,” NTB quoted him saying at an Aug. 21 press conference. “I realize I need professional help and am glad Olympiatoppen has stacked a program that involves psychologists and medical personnel.”

Northug showed contrition. “I have failed again, and I want to apologize to everyone involved. I have done a lot I am ashamed of in the pursuit of excitement and intense experiences. Now, things have gone awry, and I need help. I’m not blaming anyone. This is my own fault. I expect no sympathy. I only have myself to blame.”

Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix
Petter Northug (5) in the 50-km mass start cross-country race at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. He finished 18th but won gold in the event at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He didn’t qualify for the 2018 Olympics. Northug was recently charged with speeding, driving under the influence, and possession of drugs. At a press conference, he said, “I realize I need professional help and am glad Olympiatoppen has stacked a program that involves psychologists and medical personnel.” From 2005 to 2018, Northug won two gold medals, one silver, and one bronze in the Olympics, had 38 individual World Cup victories, nine team wins, 84 individual and 12 team podiums, two overall World Cup titles and one overall Tour de Ski crown.

The Norwegian Ski Federation said in a press release: “The ski association is happy that Petter Northug says that he realizes the seriousness of what has happened and wants professional help. It is important to emphasize that the ski association wants to give Northug all the support and help he needs, regardless of the decision related to (continued) commercial cooperation.”

Others have been more critical. Norwegian Minister of Culture Abid Raja told NTB that Northug’s actions weaken the reputation of Norwegian sports and that Northug is not the role model he should be.

Raja was heavily criticized for commenting on an ongoing trial as a public official, but his comment sparked a national debate on whether celebrity and fame weakens the feeling of severity of a criminal act.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.

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