The Norwegian, widely considered to be the best cross-country skier in the world, had no problem building a stack on Day 1 and looked comfortable at a tough table draw on Day 2a.
“I love to play poker,” he explained. “I’ve been playing for over five years now.”
This is Northug’s second time playing the Main Event and, even though he’s competed in the biggest cross-country events in the world, he’s still impressed by the prestigious poker tournament.
“The big dream is to play in the Main Event and I got to do that last year,” he said. “It’s incredible. I’m a competitive person so I love that aspect of tournament poker.”
It’s that same competitive nature that helped Northug win four Olympic medals (two gold) and nine world championship titles.
He developed an interest in poker when he started seeing it on TV and started playing poker online. He talks regularly to noted pro Orjan Skommo who won the Norwegian Poker Championship this year.
“We have a lot of good poker players in Norway,” he said. “We learn from each other.”
The 25-year-old is not the only world-renowned athlete that has developed a keen interest in poker.
Michael Phelps, Boris Becker, Forrest Griffin and Shawn Marion are among the numerous sports stars who have anted up at the WSOP.
Even on Day 2a, Northug was not alone as the Boston Celtic’s Paul Pierce was also looking to maintain his big stack.
There were even a few poker games at the athletes’ village in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“I played a little bit of poker when I was in Vancouver,” he said. “There’s not much to do when you’re at the Olympics and in the village.
"Sometimes we’d try to relax and play cards. The main thing is to remain focused on the Olympics though.”
For the time being Northug is enjoying a nice break from the cross country life in Vegas, although he still trains once a day. The break is never that long for a world-class athlete however.
“As soon as I bust from the Main Event I’m going to an altitude camp in Europe,” he said. “It’s back to the hard life.”
That hard life may have to wait a bit longer as Northug still had over 40,000 chips at the dinner break of Day 2a of the 2011 Main Event.
The 2011 WSOP continues through July 19. For comprehensive coverage live from Las Vegas check PokerListings' Live Updates brought to you by PartyPoker.