“This gold means everything. I can not describe how much it means to me,” Northug said as he stood on the podium in Falun, Sweden, his face streaming with tears of joy and relief.
The gold brings an end to several years of disappointing form for the 29-year-old, which saw him fail to win a single medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.
In October, he was sentenced to 50 days in prison for drunk driving, after crashing his Audi in the early hours of the morning outside Trondheim in May.
Northug suddenly picked up speed entering the final straight, opening a gap on Canada’s Alex Harvey which he only managed to hold to the finish by lunging forward at the line.
According to Norway’s NRK channel, Northug dropped to the ground immediately after finishing, where his brother Tomas, who was also competing, came to join him.
The two brothers lay hugging and sobbing for several minutes, before Tomas helped his brother to his feet.
Northug then hugged all his opponents, and then waved, kissed and bowed to the Swedish public.
“After what happened in spring, I knew that there was one thing I owed those around me,” Northug said later in the studio. “I had to show the Norwegian people that it is possible to rise up again,” he said.
The drama of Northug’s comeback crowned a glorious day for Norway in which the country took four out of the six medals on offer, with the country’s top female cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen also taking gold.
Bjørgen has already won more medals than any other female cross country skier in history.