Runner-up Tomba 2nd to none LILLEHAMMER 94

February 28, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

OYER, Norway -- Alberto Tomba doesn't do mornings.

Too little sleep. Too much to do.

He does the afternoons. When the races are won and lost. When the celebrations begin.

Yesterday afternoon, under a covering of snow clouds, he came roaring down a mountain, trying to make up time from the morning run, trying to reclaim victory in his final slalom race at the Winter Olympics.

He nearly fell at the second gate, but he raced on. He nearly slipped in the middle, but he raced harder. And when he reached the bottom, he was in full roar, bashing down gates, riding the course, sliding through the finish and looking up to the clock, seeing the time, and finally, throwing his hands down in disgust.

The run was good. But Tomba demands great.

He stormed around the finish paddock like a bull. He did interviews. He waited. And he watched as his name climbed up the standings.

Down 12 places and 1.84 seconds from the lead in the morning, otherskiers falling and slipping and Tomba moving higher until the day ended and he was on the victory podium.

Tomba of Italy won a silver.

"Some made mistakes," he said. "Some skied off the course. I didn't believe I could do it. There was great stress."

But he got a medal.

Thomas Stangassinger of Austria got the gold but just barely, nipping Tomba by .15 seconds overall in the two runs.

Jure Kosir of Slovenia took the bronze.

But the day belonged to Tomba.

He completed his Olympic career with three golds and two silvers, an Alpine skiing record. He also became the first Alpine skier to medal in three Olympics, in Calgary, Alberta, in 1988; Albertville, France, in 1992; and here in Norway in 1994.

"Of course, there was great emotion," he said.

Really?

This is how Tomba celebrated one last medal: He was carried off the medal podium by a dozen women in traditional Norwegian dress.

He took a sleigh ride up the mountain.

He exchanged high-fives with a throng of Italian fans.

He waved an Italian flag and then threw the flagpole high into the air, and of course, it stuck into the snow.

And then, he ran down the mountain and did a front flip.

"I am really pleased," he said. "In three Olympics I have five medals. I think that is fantastic. A great achievement. I am really proud of myself. Just the bronze medal is missing for me."

The way the day started, Tomba was awfully lucky to get on the victory podium. He was the No. 1 racer out of the gate in the morning run -- a 9:30 a.m. start to accommodate television.

But that is not Tomba time.

He was all over the course, losing ground and losing time. And he wasdisgusted.

He ate lunch. He switched skis. He formulated a new racing plan, deciding to slide his way through the top five gates, which had been marbled with ice by race organizers.

But mostly, Tomba needed a miracle.

"I thought, to make up time, I was going to have to go for it," he said. "In the Olympics, you have no choice -- you take the risks you can."

He risked. He raced, the fourth starter in the lead group of 15 skiers. The second turn nearly took him out. "Too icy," he said.

But he got to the bottom. Then he waited. One by one, those who led him in the first race came down the mountain. None could beat him.

There was Norway's Finn Christian Jagge, who beat Tomba in an eerily familiar race in Albertville. But he couldn't put up a winning time.

Austria's Thomas Sykorda lost a ski. Germany's Peter Roth was taken out at the second gate. And then, Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt followed Roth, and down he went, another victim of the second-gate ice storm.

That left Stangassinger, who led Tomba in the first run by 1.84 seconds, virtually a skiing lifetime.

Stangassinger nearly faltered at the top, and skied cautiously at the bottom. But he had enough of a cushion to win.

"I had the good first run," Stangassinger said. "Alberto had the good second run."

Paul Puckett, who finished a surprising seventh -- the best U.S. men's finish in a slalom or giant slalom since 1984 -- was not surprised by Tomba's second-run show.

"I would say, Alberto Tomba is the most incredible skier who ever was," Puckett said.

Tomba is all about drama.

He makes ski racing accessible to the masses.

There is a saying here that if you turn Norway upside down, the tip of the country would reach into the heart of Italy.

Yesterday, on a cold mountain, Italy's heart beat fiercely and proudly.

He's older and slower than he was when he won his first medals in Calgary. But he still is filled with fire.

"The Tomba of Calgary for sure would have the better first run," he said.

But the Tomba of Calgary could do the morning.

The Tomba of Norway had to settle for the afternoon.

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