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Northug dropped from Norway's 15K team

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Two-time Olympic champion Petter Northug has been dropped from Friday's 15-kilometer classical-style race after poor results in the first two men's cross-country events in Sochi.

Norway coach Trond Nystad said Wednesday that Northug is "frustrated" after failing to contend for medals in the skiathlon and individual sprint, and that the team thinks he's better off focusing on the coming events.

Northug is a nine-time world champion, but struggled with an illness this season and has looked sluggish in Sochi, finishing 17th in the skiathlon and being knocked out in the semifinals of the sprint on Tuesday.

"He's not happy with his results, but his form isn't far away," Nystad said at a news conference. "He's bewildered as to why he's not skiing faster." Each country can only enter four skiers per race, and overall World Cup leader Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Chris Jespersen, Eldar Roenning and Didrik Toenseth will compete for Norway on Friday. Sundby is among the favorites.

An in-form Northug would be a given as Norway's anchor in Sunday's 4x10-kilometer relay because of his sprinting ability, but his struggles in Sochi have opened up the possibility that he could be dropped for that event as well. Northug himself said after the sprint he could take himself out of the relay team if he didn't feel better by then.

"We've decided that the best way to return to form for the relay is to take it easy now," Nystad said. "We hope this is a strategy that works, and that Petter will be an important player in what's to come at the Olympics after Friday."

Northug is also the defending champion in the team sprint and 50-kilometer race held next week.

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