AP

Petter Northug, Norway’s brash cross-country skiing star, retires

Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Jessie Diggins sets more goals after Olympic gold

Aksel Lund Svindal ’50-50′ on Alpine skiing return

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Aksel Lund Svindal’s chronically injured knee felt so terrible after last season that retirement seemed his only option.

But the Olympic downhill champion refused to give in.

Although he didn’t join his Norwegian teammates for summer training, he’s now giving himself “a 50-50 chance” of hitting the slopes again in the new season, which starts Sunday.

“The weeks after (the World Cup Finals in) Are, I decided that I cannot make a decision because that had to be a negative decision,” said the 35-year-old Svindal, a winner of two Olympic and five world titles as well as two overall World Cup championships.

His right knee suffered permanent damage in January 2016, tearing the ACL and meniscus in a spectacular crash in Kitzbuehel. Svindal returned the following season but had to quit it prematurely, having also missed the previous season after tearing an Achilles tendon while playing soccer.

In March 2018, after he completed a full season for the first time in three years and just weeks after racing to gold at the PyeongChang Olympics, his knee looked and felt like it just came out of surgery.

And it didn’t get better for the next two months.

“I could walk, but the knee always hurt,” Svindal said. “I thought, you cannot do summer training and have to take pain killers every day.”

But in June, he was able to start doing some strength training.

“It was pretty stable, and there were days the knee was quite OK,” he said.

MORE: Alpine skiing TV/stream schedule

With his career future in serious doubt, Svindal still got the support of his equipment supplier, Head, and the Norwegian ski federation. He wasn’t going to join the likes of Kjetil Jansrud and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde for the usual preparation period, but would work on his own on a reduced schedule.

Otherwise his knee wouldn’t hold up, but there’s also a mental side to it.

“When you train with a group of healthy athletes, you get reminded every single day that you are injured,” Svindal said. “Doing that for the third year in a row, it gets mentally draining.”

If he returns, he will only compete in downhill and super-G races as time is lacking to put in enough giant slalom practice. He plans to compete in all speed races, including at the world championships in Are, Sweden, in February.

“That is Plan A. But there is also a Plan B. And a Plan C,” he said. “Last year I went to the limit, maybe over it. With the Olympics, you want to push a bit more, but I can’t push that much every year. I have to be a bit more careful.”

Svindal’s training usually contains of two or three days of skiing before taking a few days of rest to let the knee recover. But last week, on the Saas-Fee glacier in Switzerland, Svindal stood on skis for seven straight days, something he hadn’t been able doing for the past three years.

“It was quite positive. And if that continues into (next month’s training in) Colorado, chances are good that I can come to Lake Louise like normal,” he said, referring to the first speeds races on Nov. 24-25. “To come there and try to win, that’s where I want to be.”

His belief that he can still win races is what prevented Svindal from calling it a career.

“When you are at the start, and you know Jansrud and (Matthias) Mayer had good runs, but you also know: I am just as good and I can win,” Svindal said, “that adrenalin is still a lot of fun.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Vonn explains why it’s her final season

Usain Bolt trains with new soccer team, to play another friendly

AP
Leave a comment

Usain Bolt is training alongside at least a fourth different club soccer team across three continents this year, working out with Strømsgodset of Norways’ top division, the Eliteserien, for the next week.

Bolt is preparing for a June 10 charity match at Manchester United’s Old Trafford with other celebrities and retired soccer players. But he has also expressed a desire to play professional soccer.

Bolt, who wore No. 9.58 in training (signifying his 100m world record), will play with Strømsgodset in a training match against Norway’s under-19 national team on Tuesday, according to the club.

“I want to try to get better, to work as hard as I can, play as much as I can,” Bolt said, according to a Reuters translation of a Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang report. “Maybe a club will see something and decide to give me a chance.”

Bolt said he wants to play “in a top league.”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s La Liga, English league, Bundesliga, I’m OK with that,” Bolt said March 23. “I just want to prove to the world anything is possible.”

Earlier in 2018, Bolt trained alongside club teams in South Africa and Jamaica, plus the much publicized visit with Borussia Dortmund in March. Bolt, Dortmund and Strømsgodset share an apparel sponsor in Puma.

Bolt said in April he would return to Dortmund to “work with them for three more weeks” for another assessment of his prospects of becoming a professional soccer player.

“It’s a big deal,” Bolt said in April. “Everyone feels like I’m just kicking it around, I’m joking, but I’m serious. I’m actually going back to Dortmund in a couple of weeks, to work with them for three more weeks, just to assess myself at the better level to see what level I’m at or what I need to do or if I can [do it].”

Dortmund’s coach, Peter Stoeger, said March 23 that Bolt had work ahead if he wanted to become a pro.

“He is at an age where I say he is no longer so incredibly capable of development,” Stoeger said, according to The Associated Press. “You can see that he understands the game. He’s talented. What he’s missing is the team work.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Bolt: The Freeze too quick for me