Anyway, this is not about skiing technicalities. This is about narrative. Because I have to admit that what I really like in a race, any kind of race, is the concept of pursuit. My favourite races are largely those in which Person A gets out in front, and Person B mercilessly hunts them down. So although the man is a complete tosser, and if I were a cross-country skier I would probably be considering taking out a contract on Petter Northug’s life, this really is a fabulous 1 min 30 seconds of an absolutely brilliant finisher destroying the competition (Norwegian commentary, sorry, but they are really enthusiastic. Northug is the bloke in the white, unfortunately transparent suit, who enters the clip in fifth place).
I try very hard to come up with descriptions of Northug that don’t involve phallic or masturbatory comparisons, but it cannot be done. A friend and I once had an entire conversation about him in which every sentence basically went “He’s such a wanker, but...” with variations that despite our best efforts did not get very far. It is probably not his fault that whereas some people suffer from resting bitchface, Northug suffers from resting sneerface. He personifies the line from Twelfth Night, ‘Oh, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful/ In the contempt and anger of his lip!’ ‘Beautiful’ is rather pushing it, but he really does do galactic-standard sneering. Actors playing Evil Nazis could model themselves on him.
The problem is, that while were there to be a World Championships in Being a Total Knobhead, Northug would undoubtedly be a strong contender*, he is also a really good skier. He is not the world’s best technical skier, which honour belongs to his female compatriot, Marit Bjørgen**, but when it comes to grinding your opponents into the dust with +2m planks strapped to your feet, he is the winner. In any case, it makes for massively entertaining viewing.
*At the end of this ski season, Northug’s next destination is 50 days in the Norwegian prison system due to crashing his car while drunk driving in May, which also involved speeding, leaving the scene of the crime, and lying to the police about who was driving.
** Bjørgen is basically the Roger Federer of cross-country skiing. Like Federer, and unlike Northug, she also manages to be a nice person.
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