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

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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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How to watch 40 hours of World Cup ski events this weekend

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NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA combine to air more than 40 hours of World Cup action in Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping from Friday through Sunday, with more than 30 hours of live streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

The Alpine skiing World Cup makes its final stops in North America. Double Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin looks to build on her World Cup overall standings lead in two downhills and a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta. Another two-time gold medalist, Ted Ligety, tackles the Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek, Colo., where he will be one of the favorites in Sunday’s giant slalom, following Friday’s super-G and Saturday’s downhill.

PyeongChang Olympic champ Jessie Diggins leads the U.S. cross-country team to Lillehammer, Norway, for its second World Cup stop.

The Nordic combined World Cup also heads to Norway’s 1994 Olympic host village this weekend for the Lillehammer Tour. The stop features the first mass-start Nordic combined event on the World Cup in nearly a decade.

Finally, the men’s and women’s ski jumping circuits are split between Nizhny Tagil, Russia, and Lillehammer, respectively.

MORE: Alpine skiing season broadcast schedule

ALPINE SKIING

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 12:30 p.m. Men’s Downhill NBCSN NBC Sports
2:30 p.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
5:30 p.m. Women’s Downhill* NBCSN NBC Sports
Saturday 1 p.m.** Men’s Super-G NBCSN NBC Sports
2 p.m. Women’s Downhill NBCSN NBC Sports
5 p.m. Men’s Downhill* NBC
6 p.m. Men’s Downhill* Olympic Channel
10 p.m. Women’s Downhill* Olympic Channel
Sunday 11:45 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) NBC Sports
1 p.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) NBCSN NBC Sports
5 p.m. Men’s Giant Slalom* NBC
6:30 p.m. Women’s Super-G* NBCSN
11:30 p.m. Men’s Giant Slalom* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

**Race start delayed to 2
All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 6 a.m. Men’s, Women’s Sprints Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Saturday 4:30 a.m. Women’s 10km Olympic Channel
6:15 a.m. Men’s 15km Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Women’s 10km* Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m. Women’s 10km* NBCSN NBC Sports
Sunday 4:15 a.m. Women’s 10km Pursuit Olympic Channel
5:45 a.m. Men’s 15km Pursuit Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s 10km Pursuit* Olympic Channel
3:30 p.m. Women’s 10km Pursuit* NBCSN NBC Sports

*Same-day delay
All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

NORDIC COMBINED

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 5 a.m. Men’s HS98 Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Men’s 5km Gunderson Olympic Channel
Saturday 3:30 a.m. Men’s 10km Mass Start Olympic Channel
8:15 a.m. Men’s HS98 Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:35 a.m. Men’s HS140 Olympic Channel
8:05 a.m. Men’s 10km Gunderson Olympic Channel

All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

SKI JUMPING

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 9:45 a.m. Men’s HS134 (Qualifying) Olympic Channel
11:30 a.m. Women’s Individual Olympic Channel
7 p.m. Women’s Individual* Olympic Channel
Saturday 9:45 a.m. Men’s Individual Olympic Channel
11:15 a.m. Women’s Individual Olympic Channel
7 p.m. Men’s Individual* Olympic Channel
8:30 p.m. Women’s Individual* Olympic Channel
Sunday 6:45 a.m. Women’s Individual Olympic Channel
10 a.m. Men’s Individual Olympic Channel
7 p.m. Women’s Individual* Olympic Channel
8:30 p.m. Men’s Individual* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay
All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

Jessie Diggins sets more goals after Olympic gold

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Here comes Jessie Diggins.

Diggins, who in PyeongChang teamed with Kikkan Randall to win the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title, heads to Europe on Monday to ramp up training for the World Cup season that begins Thanksgiving weekend.

She plans to work her way into top fitness, peaking at the world championships in Austria in late February. Though Diggins has her Olympic gold, the 27-year-old rattles off goals with the kind of excitement that jibes with the face glitter with which she is known to race.

“There’s so many things left to accomplish, but I think one of my biggest ones that would mean so much to me is if we got a medal in the 4x5km relay,” Diggins said in a recent interview. “That really shows the strength of the team and depth of the team. For me, that would be possibly the most meaningful thing to ever accomplish.”

Diggins was part of the last three world championships relays. The U.S. finished fourth in 2013, 2015 and 2017. In PyeongChang, the Americans were fifth. If they are to make the podium either this season or at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, it must be without stalwart Randall.

The Alaskan retired after her fifth Olympics. In July, Randall announced she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. She has documented treatment the last four months, including posing for a photo after surgery this week wearing a pink Superman crown, holding an orange popsicle and lifting a thumbs-up.

“She’s doing such a great job, going after this newest challenge with so much tenacity and strength and courage,” Diggins said. “We’re there to support her in every way that we can.”

Diggins not only takes over the role as veteran U.S. leader on the World Cup, but also remains one of the biggest challengers to Norwegian dominance. In the last Olympic cycle, she moved from 22nd in the World Cup overall standings in 2015 to eighth in 2016, sixth in 2017 and runner-up to Heidi Weng last year.

Three Norwegians combined to win the last five World Cup overall titles. Although 15-time Olympic medalist Marit Bjørgen retired after PyeongChang, two-time World Cup overall champion Therese Johaug is now eligible to return from a two-season ban over lip cream.

“It would be pretty cool to some day try to win the crystal globe, try to get the overall to show that you can compete in every event throughout the entire season,” said Diggins, whose five individual World Cup race wins came in 5km and 10km freestyles. “That’s a huge, huge reach goal, but I was second by 40 points last year, so I guess it’s not the craziest goal to have.”

Bill Koch is the lone American to win a World Cup overall title, doing so in 1982. He was also the lone U.S. Olympic cross-country medalist until February. The Diggins and Randall team sprint victory was groundbreaking in itself, but the “Here Comes Diggins!” exclamatory call by NBC Olympics analyst Chad Salmela also added impact.

Diggins could not estimate how many times she has heard the phrase in the last eight months. She has known the fellow Minnesota native Salmela since high school.

Diggins has been feted across the Land of 10,000 Lakes since returning from South Korea. She was honored with her own day and ice cream in her hometown of Afton. She was overwhelmed by the response to revealing her teenage eating disorder.

“It was really emotional at times, because I heard from these young girls who reminded me of me,” she told NBC’s affiliate in Minneapolis.

While appearing at a fundraiser for a World Cup event to be held in Minneapolis in 2020, a man with the Minnesota Vikings asked if she would speak to the football team. She obliged and afterward praised the players twice her size for the respect shown to her.

“I can’t tell you all the secrets, but basically the message was how do we focus on what we can control so that we can perform when it matters,” she said. “Like I said to them, I don’t know anything about football. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. They’re the experts. But I do know what it’s like to work so hard day after day, going after these crazy goals with the team. I know what works in my sport when it comes to focusing in and trying to peak at the right moment.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer expanded after the team won their following game.

“Basically she talked about how everybody can do anything for 10 things, whether it’s 10 push-ups, or as she said, ’10km, but I would count ten strides,'” Zimmer said. “Who knows if any of that stuff is a big factor in winning, but it gets you to think about what’s important and how you can overcome when you’re tired, basically about sucking it up.”

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MORE: Best cross-country skiing moments from PyeongChang Olympics