Northug the man to beat as cross-country ski season starts
Petter Northug appears to be the man to beat in the Olympic cross-country skiing season which starts on Saturday in his native Norway. Northug, 23, rose to stardom with three gold medals at the 2009 world championships in the Czech resort of Liberec and hopes for similar success at the Vancouver Games which run February 12-28.
And like in Liberec, where he shook off the ghosts of a fall at the previous worlds, he will have something to prove in Canada after not being nominated for the 2006 Games in Turin despite winning four world junior titles that year.
Northug won a pre-season 15-kilometer race last week in Beitostolen, where the World Cup opener is also scheduled for Saturday (15km) and Sunday (relay).
“It was good to get an answer to that my form is on schedule. I have trained well throughout the summer and fall,” said Northug on his home page.
Northug has indicated he plans to compete in all six Olympic races, which could mean that he will have to cut down on his World Cup schedule to avoid exhaustion.
The 34 World Cup events run over exactly four months until March 21 and are highlighted by the Tour de Ski January 1-10.
Swiss Dario Cologna won the 2009 Tour to pave the way for his first World Cup title. He is expected to be a big rival for Northug again, and so are the Italians around Giorgio di Centa, Sweden and Germany led by two-time World Cup champ Tobias Angerer.
“My preparation was wonderful. I am happy that the season starts now,” said Angerer.
On the women’s side, former superstar Marit Bjørgen showed a sign of life with a 10km win last weekend in Beitostolen. The Norwegian said she has changed her summer training in order to do well all season as she seeks an elusive Olympic gold.
“A gold is worth more than three silvers,” said the 29-year-old Bjørgen.
But compatriot Kristin Steira and World Cup champ and two-time world champion Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland are just two big rivals, with Finnish stars Aino Kaisa Saarinen and Virpi Kuitunen as well as Slovenian Petra Majdic other top contenders.