Norwegian cross-country ski team relishes anonymity on Canadian tour
'I'm pretty happy to be here in Canada. I can walk out in the streets like a normal guy'
It's tough to be a super famous Norwegian cross-country skier in Norway, where they can't go for coffee without being recognized. But in Ottawa, on the eve of a World Cup event, they can roam the streets in relative anonymity — and they're cherishing it.
Of the 17-member Norwegian team touring Canada this month, Petter Northug is undoubtedly the most famous, occupying a space in his country's national consciousness as large as the one Drake, Justin Bieber or Celine Dion inhabit here in Canada.
We've been out here walking in the streets a couple of days since we arrived and that feels amazing, so that's something I want to do more in the future also.- Petter Northug, famous Norwegian cross-country skier
Birger Lofaldli is tasked with following him around the globe for a Norwegian newspaper. Here's how he describes Northug's fame:
"I think he's the most famous person in Norway now, a superstar in Norway, more like a film star or a football player. I travel all around the world to follow him," Lofaldi said.
"You have the hockey stars [in Canada], in Europe you have the football players, in Norway Petter Northug is, I think, on that level. He's the most famous athlete and also the most famous person overall, I think, in Norway."
But in Canada, it's highly unlikely someone would remember Northug winning gold in the 50K race at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. And Northug is glad of it.
"In Norway everybody knows who I am, so I'm pretty happy to be here in Canada. I can walk out in the streets like a normal guy. Sometimes at home you get tired of people who recognize you, wanting to take a photo or a signature or something," said the ski star, whose name and face grace products from breakfast juice to clothes to bread back home.
"It's amazing. We've been out here walking in the streets a couple of days since we arrived and that feels amazing, so that's something I want to do more in the future also."
His teammates agree.
Therese Johaug: "In Norway I'm a big star. If I walk around in the city in Oslo, everybody wants to take a picture of me, to have an autograph or something. But sometimes I don't like it because everybody knows you wherever you are. If you do something you know that everybody ... knows what you do."
Ingvild Flugstad Østberg: "Looking forward for touring Canada. For sure in Norway cross-country skiing is the national sport. Lots of people know who you are ... quite different than when we're here in Canada and the U.S. I don't know if anyone even knows us. ... And the big variations in the weather, I guess that's also a strange thing. One 1 C day and – 15 C the other day, so that's kind of strange."
Ski Tour Canada 2016 travels to Montreal, Quebec City and Canmore, Alta., later this month.