The world of cross-country skiing says goodbye to the colourful, controversial, retiring Northug

The Norwegian has been one of the most popular figures and most successful cross-country skiers throughout his career.

Not one, not two, not three... but 13! That’s how many World Championship gold medals Petter Northug collected.

The Norwegian announced his retirement from cross-country skiing at a press conference in Trondheim on Wednesday, bringing an end to a career that was never far from the headlines.

Northug made his decision after struggling to recover from a series of injuries and setbacks, that saw him miss Pyeongchang 2018.

He had hoped to add to his two Olympic golds from Vancouver 2010. But it wasn’t to be.

Retiring certainly wasn't an easy decision, as evidenced by the tears he shed at the announcement.

Energy Spent

Northug had missed 250 hours of training over the summer due to illness, and knew it was time to call it quits when he realised there was little chance he would make it to the Nordic World Ski Championships Austria in February 2019.

"I have done my utmost to get back in shape and fight for a place at the World Cup in Seefeld but for the past two weeks I've felt that I'm too far behind, and then I chose not to spend more energy on it," - Petter Northug announcing his retirement.

One of a kind

The 32-year-old's career was both admirable and controversial.

His talent was recognised early, with sponsors lining up to sign him when he was still just a kid, and he didn’t disappoint on the snow.

In the early years his performances with skis on, and his public appearances without skis, made Northug a folk hero and one of the most covered figures in the Norwegian press.

Via his own social media accounts, he wasn't afraid to make jokes about himself.

That included responding to rumours that he was out of shape just a few months ahead of the Winter Olympics.

He posted the photo below, with the text written in Norwegian, saying: "When you realise that there is only five months to the Olympics."

Taunting rivals - especially from neighbours Sweden - became his trademark.

It didn’t make Northug any less popular among Norwegians.

But he did receive criticism for it from outside.

He was, for instance, criticised for 'show-boating' by side-stepping across the finish line when Norway won the 4x10-km relay at the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo.

Petter Northug side-stepping across the finish line in the 4x10km relay final at the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo.
Petter Northug side-stepping across the finish line in the 4x10km relay final at the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo.Petter Northug side-stepping across the finish line in the 4x10km relay final at the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo.

Career high

In his own words, Northug's career peaked in 2011 when he stole the show in a sea of Norwegian flags at the world champs on home soil in Oslo.

Going into the competition as two-time Olympic champion, he clinched three gold medals and two silvers in front of an ecstatic home crowd.

Personal Lows

The many medals on home soil also became a turning point in his career. Not for the better though.

In 2014 he was convicted of drunk driving after crashing his car and fleeing.

He eventually served a 50 day prison sentence, wearing an electronic tracking device.

His brothers, Tomas and Even, both cross-country skiers, helped Petter maintain the motivation for the sport but he couldn't replicate the success.

Northug had the chance to make the 2018 Olympic team but illness put him back and he didn’t manage to regain fitness ahead of the current season.

"I have lived in faith and hope that it could be turned around but the body can't take anymore and the head is a little tired from what has happened before," he said at the press conference

Praised by Fellow Athletes

When at his best, Northug was almost unbeatable on the finishing straight, and his sporting achievements have been the focus for many following the retirement decision.

Northug's successor Johannes Klæbo, who took three golds at PyeongChang 2018, posted on social media that Petter Northug is his biggest idol in the sport.

Niklas Dyrhaug, who took two golds together with Northug at the 2015 Nordic World Ski Championships, calls Northug "the biggest skier in modern times" with a photo of the two from their first ski weekend together 20 years ago.

Former cross-country skier, three-time Olympic champ, and fellow Norwegian Vegard Ulvang told NRK that Northug "pulled cross-country skiing out of the woods,"

The same media quoted former biathlon athlete Emil Hegle Svendsen as saying "An era in Norway's sports is over. He was the greatest, he was more than just a great skier. Simply a legend."

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