Petter Northug, Norway’s polarizing cross-country skier and arguably its most famous athlete, announced his retirement from the sport at age 32 in a tearful press conference Wednesday.
“It’s been an adventure — I had a little dream when I was a little boy that I would be a good skier, and I’m proud to have achieved that,” Northug said, according to a Reuters translation. “Cross-country skiing has been my life for so many years, so it’s tough to quit.”
After being left off a 2006 Olympic team that earned zero gold medals, Northug became the face of the program’s rise back to dominance while at times sparring with the Norwegian federation.
He earned 13 world titles and four 2010 Olympic medals, plus World Cup overall titles in 2010 and 2013.
Northug barely competed last season, reportedly due to health issues, was left off the PyeongChang Olympic team and mostly struggled in lower-level races in November, which all put his top-level skiing future in doubt.
“I have lived in faith and hope that it could be turned around, but the body can’t take any more, and the head is a little tired from what has happened before,” Northug said, according to Reuters. “This is the best solution for me, and I believe I will be happy for that choice and look forward to new things.”
He also made plenty of headlines off his skis.
Northug had his own reality show, “Circus Northug,” which ran for two seasons. He competed in the World Series of Poker. He once made King Harald V wait 15 minutes to congratulate him on a victory so that he could cool down.
Competitors called him “Storkjeften fra Mosvik,” or the Big Mouth from Mosvik (his Norwegian birthplace). Northug raced with the words “Haters Gonna Hate” on his apparel.
Northug was also given a 50-day prison sentence in 2014 for drunkenly crashing his car into a barrier near his home in Trondheim. He reportedly served it outside of jail while wearing an ankle cuff.
While Northug last made a World Cup podium in March 2016, other Norwegians picked up the slack. Namely Johannes Klæbo, who earned three golds in PyeongChang, and Martin Johnsrud Sundby, the 2016 and 2017 World Cup overall champion.
Northug is the fourth Norwegian winter sports legend to retire this year.
Marit Bjørgen, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, Emil Hegle Svendsen and Northug combined for 40 Olympic medals and 63 world titles between biathlon and cross-country skiing.
NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.
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