Olympics Jerk Watch: The Norwegian Skier Who Loves Mocking the King of Sweden

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Feb. 20 2014 12:10 PM

Olympics Jerk Watch: The Norwegian Skier Who Loves Mocking the King of Sweden

470308673-norways-petter-jr-northug-hold-his-skis-at-the-finish
Petter Northug Jr.

Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Name: Petter Northug Jr.

Home country: Norway

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Known for: Nordic skiing, vainglorious boasting, mocking Swedish people.

Why he might be a jerk: Northug is one of the most outspoken cross-country skiers in the business—and not outspoken in the “spotlighting social injustice” sense. He’s a world-class trash-talker, especially when it comes to Sweden. During a 2011 ski race in that Scandinavian country, for instance, Northug angered the crowd when he deliberately “sashayed over the finish line in the men’s relay and seemed to try to block it for his Swedish rival coming up fast behind him.” These antics caused one Swedish pundit to call him “a wolf on the ski tracks and a pig at the finish line.” After another race, Northug sparked controversy by mocking the relative weakness of the Swedish currency, the kronor. He has also been known to go out of his way to taunt Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. (But, then, who hasn’t gone out of his way to taunt King Carl Gustaf? Nice hat, Carl!)

That’s not to say that Northug reserves his ire for the Swedes. Before the Sochi Games, referring to a rival Russian skier named Maxim Vylegzhanin, Northug promised that he would “destroy his life so that he can never set foot on a sports track again.” So, basically, not only is he the Richard Sherman of Nordic skiing, he’s also the Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of Nordic skiing. Scorch that earth, Petter Northug!

When Northug isn’t antagonizing other skiers, he’s usually advertising his own talents. He doubles as a musician, and his latest single is titled “Jävla norrbagge,” or “Fucking Norwegian,” in which, according to skierpost.com, “Northug sums up some of the highlights in his career” in a brash manner. The song is a collaboration with a Swedish musician named Shajan Ghanfili. “It’s fun to sing together with a Swede when we are putting down the Swedes,” said Northug. That does sound like fun.

What else? Northug also stars in a reality program called Sirkus Northug, which translates as Circus Northug. (Yes, Norway is the sort of country where cross-country skiers get their own reality shows.) He once had the phrase “haters gonna hate” printed on the shoulder of his ski racing suit. And his official website, northug.no, features two photographs of Petter with a naked female blow-up doll. Right on the homepage!

Why he might not be a jerk: Well, at least he’s colorful. And, hey, every sport needs a heel. And they might not actually be his blow-up dolls. Maybe he was just holding them for a friend? Finally, I would like to note that Northug is a legitimately great skier, and even the Swedes recognize this. In 2012 a Swedish group called DEO recorded an a cappella number titled “Petter Northug,” in which they extol the Norwegian’s virtues in a comically exaggerated fashion:

 The translated lyrics are worth excerpting at length:

Who’s strong, who’s fast, who’s hard as steel? Who’s best and always crosses the line first? Who gets to hear the crowd roar? Our hero Petter Northug! …
He has style, he has grace, he has heroism. And his chin is the size of a country shed. He has liquor and petroleum in his blood. And he’s steady as a pine trunk.

I suspect that some of the lyrical nuances may have been lost in translation.

Jerk Score: 2 out of 3 for style, because he really should have put “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” on the other shoulder. I’ll give him 2 out of 3 for technical merit, and I’d bump that up to 3 if it turned out that he actually knew how to perform some classic circus tricks like tightrope-walking and lion-taming. 3 out of 3 for consistency, because Northug never misses an opportunity to make fun of Swedes. And 1 out of 1 in the category of “Is he a reality television star in Norway?” 8 out of 10 for Petter Northug Jr., who is certainly a jerk, but who, it must be noted, is also the most entertaining jerk I’ve covered thus far. Keep on keeping on, Petter Northug Jr.!

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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