It's time for Tomba to let legs do talking

February 18, 1992|By Timothy Dwyer | Timothy Dwyer,Knight-Ridder News Service

VAL D'ISERE, France -- All winter long he has promised to make history. Not only has he predicted two gold medals for himself, but he has vowed to do it with such style, such grace, such power and domination that the people of France will bow at his feet and change the name of the Olympics to the "Albertoville Olympics."

Guess who just blew in from Italy?

Yes, Alberto Tomba has arrived with his customary bluster and today he was going to shut his mouth long enough to begin his conquest of men and mountains. Tomba, the best slalom skier in the world, was attempting to become the first, and only, two-time Olympic champion in skiing.

He won two gold medals in 1988 at Calgary and all winter, all along the World Cup tour, he has promised a repeat performance here. Today was the Super-G slalom. The slalom will be held on Saturday.

Tomba has stayed away from France. Too many distractions like pasta, wine and women. Instead, he has remained home in Italy, living like a monk and practicing under the watchful eyes of his personal trainer, psychologist, chef and coach.

On Sunday, Tomba arrived here on the mountaintop. At a news conference he spoke like a man who had not seen freedom since the chairlift was invented.

He said he will change his lifestyle now that he is staying in the Olympic Village. "I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.," he joked with Italian reporters. "In the Olympic Village, I will live it up with five women until 3 a.m."

You could hear the sound of fathers all over France bolting shut their daughters' rooms. In Italy, only a ski lift away, the doors were already locked.

When he finished detailing his training schedule, Tomba came up with a shocker. He showed some humility.

He backed away from his repeated promises to win two gold medals. "I particularly do not expect a medal," Tomba said, trying to keep a straight face. "The die is cast."

Even on an off-day Tomba, 25, can beat all his challangers. While most slalom races are decided by fractions of a second, Tomba often finishes a full second or more in front of his nearest rival. Using his enormous thighs, he simply overpowers the hill.

How well Tomba will do here is another question, given the inconsistent conditions of the race courses. It has snowed nearly every other day since the games began, and the courses have snatched some of the world's top skiers. Yesterday, it was snowing steadily and the wind was blowing from the north, creating drifts on every slope.

Maybe the soft snow and the poor performances by other top skiers have caused this sudden attack of humility for the man they call "La Bomba."

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