You probably don't know the name Petter Northug. His face wouldn't ring a bell either.
But to the 5 million people of Norway, he's a living god, a national hero gaining quick notoriety as the world's best cross-country skier. He won two gold medals, a silver and bronze at his first Olympics last year.
But the medals don't help him here. Try naming one member of America's own Nordic team from the 2010 Olympics.
Nevertheless, the scruffy-haired, stubble-chinned, 25-year-old has transcended the sport. He's Norway's Michael Jordan.
And he's been in Las Vegas the past week, bringing with him an internationally followed publicity stunt paralleling the memorable Michael Jordan/Larry Bird commercial of 1988.
In the "Nothing but Net" commercial, Celtics legend Bird challenges Bulls superstar Jordan to a game of H-O-R-S-E. To the winner goes a McDonald's Big Mac. The challenges between the two basketball players become more and more difficult, eventually reaching absurd levels.
Norway has similar commercials for a popular men's magazine featuring Northug and Odd-Bjorn Hjelmeset, a 39-year-old skier who won five gold and three bronze cross-country medals at the 2007 World Championships. But Hjelmeset is always portrayed as "feminine," said Alexander Oysta, editor of Norway's Vi Menn, meaning "Us Men."
"He's tired of being the girl in this relationship," said Oysta at Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation area on Tuesday while the two athletes stood at the starting line along the scenic loop. "They're here to decide who's more manly."
The athletes first ran up and down a section of the Red Rock scenic loop, and then donned roller skis. The 3-foot-long skis have Rollerblade wheels attached for pavement. This was the second of three challenges to earn nothing but bragging rights. But it's also promotional.
Before standing at the starting line, the athletes pretended to read a copy of Vi Menn for a photo shoot, same as Jordan and Bird pretended to care about a Big Mac.
So, why Las Vegas?
Same as Jordan aiming for a hoop from atop a skyscraper, what could be zanier than cross-country skiing in the desert? Three days ago, the two clipped on their skis and raced across sand.
Northug lost by default because he tripped.
This all sounds a little ridiculous but Norway is keenly following the challenge, captured by NRK, Norway's equivalent of NBC television network.
"The country's all watching everything he (Northug) does," Oysta said. "He's the No. 1 celebrity."
But only a half dozen members of the local Norwegian-American community showed for the challenge Tuesday, wearing shirts of the Norwegian flag with its blue cross and red background. No American press showed besides the Review-Journal.
It was obvious Northug had the edge as the skiers climbed 1,000 feet in elevation over six miles of pavement. He gained a quick and wide lead. But the older Hjelmeset closed the gap and took the lead by holding onto a Toyota Camry, like some foreign version of the skateboard-riding Marty McFly in "Back to the Future."
He let go of the car at the top of the first hill but fell to second while climbing the second. Northug won round two.
"That's typical Odd," Northug said about Hjelmeset's McFly move. "He'll do things like poke you with his ski pole."
Odd fell victim to the heat, he said. The temperature was in the low 90s during the shirtless race.
The tie-breaking third competition was scheduled for the Strip Tuesday night but occurred after the Reivew-Journal's deadline. Whether it entailed skiing remained a secret to the athletes Tuesday afternoon.
Contact Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.