Tomba la bomba - Ski Club of Great Britain

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Tomba la bomba - Ski Club of Great Britain
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Tomba la bomba
On the eve of the 2010 Vancouver Games, Brian Pinelli meets one of the most
bemedalled alpine skiers in Olympic history
IN THE LATE 1980s and 90s, he was Italy’s favorite
son - a dynamic skier with an inimitable style on the
Olympic skiing champions in history.
“The first Olympic medal happened so naturally, so
slopes and a charismatic and flamboyant personality off
suddenly, that I didn’t have time to think a lot about it,”
them. Dark-haired and distinguished, his every move and
he said of his GS victory. “I was so young, it was my first
spoken word was closely followed by the Italian media,
time at the Olympics, with nothing to lose, so I went down
paparazzi, fellow ski racers and legions of dedicated fans.
as best I could and got the gold.”
Alberto Tomba was larger than life over the course
Tomba built an almost insurmountable lead after the
of his 13 seasons on the FIS World Cup Tour. And while
first run at Nakiska. His advantage was 1.14 seconds
“La Bomba” often grabbed headlines off the mountain,
over Austria’s Hubert Strolz. And the brash young Italian
there’s no denying the iconic figure was at his best when
remained aggressive in the afternoon run, claiming his
it mattered most – during pressure-packed Olympic races.
first Olympic victory by more than a second. His boisterous
Come February, the Italian ski legend will return to
an Olympics in Canada – this time as a member of the
media, 22 years after he amazed the world by winning
fan club at the finish burst through the fence to get to
their hero.
Two days later, in the slalom, Tomba found himself in
double gold at Calgary in February 1988. Just a few
third place after the first run - .63 seconds behind West
months after turning 21, the local boy from Castel dei
Germany’s Frank Wörndl. Quick on his feet, he charged hard
Britti, just outside Bologna, became one of the youngest
down the fall line, attacking every gate in the final run. ❱❱❱
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In spectacular fashion, he managed to grab his second
but this was stimulating to m, and I wanted to push, and
“I used to entertain
gold medal on the penultimate day of the Games, this
give my best.”
three women until 5 am,
time by a mere .06 seconds. The Italian champion was
but I am getting older,
immediately hoisted onto the shoulders of those in the
Face de Bellevarde while his loyal fans hung posters
so here in the Olympic
finishing corral.
saying: “When you’re Alberto, you’re everything”. Just like
On February 18, Tomba took to the GS on Val d’Isère’s
village I will live it up
“Calgary was like a dream,” said Tomba. “It was
with five women, but
the beginning of everything. The first satisfaction, great
this time he was just .13 seconds ahead of Luxembourg’s
only until 3 am.”
satisfaction, after years of sacrifice, races and training.”
Marc Girardelli, the five-time overall World Cup champion.
Despite his youth, Tomba’s triumphs in Calgary weren’t
“In the first part of the second run, my time was not so
a complete shock to the skiing world. Earlier that season,
good,” said Tomba. “But in the last 20 seconds, I used all
he’d impressively won four World Cup races, all in Italy.
my energy to recover - and get the gold!”
After the last, in Madonna di Campiglio, he modestly
proclaimed, “I am the new Messiah of skiing!”
“It was the winning streak that first year that was
unbelievable” says Gianni Merlo, a longtime journalist
with Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport, who has covered Tomba’s
Tomba increased his lead, winning his third
consecutive Olympic gold medal by .32 seconds. In doing
so, he became the first alpine racer to successfully repeat
an Olympic victory in the same event.
Seeking an unprecedented fourth Olympic gold medal,
career since the very beginning. “In Italy he was the
the Italian champion had his best event – the slalom, four
man of the weekend every weekend. He became so
days later, in nearby Les Menuires.
popular - and then he went to Calgary. Luckily for him, his
“I was a little bit tired after the giant slalom success,”
competitions there were always on primetime on Italian
he said. “The mental energy was absorbed by that gold,
television. They even managed to stop the festival in San
and the media pressure, if possible, was higher. The first
Remo that year, to give a window to him and his victory.
run was not good at all.”
There were about 20 million spectators that night.”
Prior to Tomba’s GS and slalom
success in Calgary, he also competed
in the Super G. The turn of events
afterwards added to Tomba’s
Tomba was way down in sixth place, 1.58 seconds
behind the Norwegian leader Finn Christian Jagge.
However, he was .51 seconds from of a more attainable
second place.
According to Merlo, there was more to Alberto’s story.
“He got up late, and didn’t make the course inspection.
“The funniest thing was
after the Super G” says
Merlo. “He went out after
four gates - he hit a
gate and had an injury.
That night we went to a
restaurant, and instead
He couldn’t test the edges of his skis. In the first run he
had too much edge, and was not so quick.”
However, he didn’t panic. In typical Tomba fashion,
he used his easygoing, fun-loving demeanor to his best
Says Merlo: “I spoke to Jean-Claude Killy (France’s
triple Olympic gold medalist in 1968) and he was
of him taking care of
impressed by Tomba between the two runs because he
the small leg injury,
saw him being pulled up the hill on the lift, and unlike any
he was the judge of a
other human, he’d turned around on it, looking down at
beauty contest between
the public. It showed that he was always joking - and in
the women there. He
the second run he almost won.”
really should have gone to
“I decided to change my approach for the second
the doctor, but he didn’t care
run so I changed the look on my face,” said Tomba, who
so much.
also even shaved in between runs. “It helped me send
“I’m sure that if he hadn’t
made that mistake in the Super
G, he could have won three gold
medals. He was amazing - just a
bit unlucky in that race.”
Four years later, in 1992, Alberto
would continue his Olympic medal quest
outside Albertville, in the French Alps.
“The second Olympics was
a little bit different for me,”
said Tomba. “I was a more
mature athlete, and people were
expecting me to maintain my results.
Naturally, I started to feel more pressure,
18 | Ski+board | skiclub.co.uk
in Calgary, he once again skied a strong first run – only
the message that the second time would be completely
different from the first. So it was - and I got the silver.”
The Italian, now 25, climbed four places, overtaking
Austria’s Michael Tritscher and grabbing a historic fourth
Olympic medal. In celebration, he fell to the snow,
seemingly in exhaustion, and pointed his arms skyward.
Arguably one of the greatest Olympic ski racer ever to
strap on a pair of skis, Tomba’s boastfulness, celebrity
and at times sex appeal to women continued to dominate
his life.
“He was always able to smile and joke before and after
the competition and people loved that,” said Merlo. “Usain
Bolt is like that now. Tomba was able to communicate
with the smile, eyes and by having fun. He was also a
handsome man compared with the other skiers.”
Always colorful and never shy, Tomba’s most famous
quote may have come at the 1992 Albertville Olympics
when he said: “I used to entertain three women until 5
am, but I am getting older, so here in the Olympic village I
will live it up with five women, but only until 3 am.”
His attempted courtship of a German figure skater,
Katarina Witt, also made Olympic news off the snow and ice.
Tomba’s fifth and final Olympic medal came on a frigid
day near Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. As usual, it was
filled with plenty of drama.
The Italian had a poor first run in the slalom, just days
after failing to finish in the GS. In 12th place, and an
entire second out of medal position, Tomba was superb in
the final run, moving into the lead, but with 11 skiers still
One by one, they struggled on the hard, icy slope.
Ten of the world’s premier racers failed to better Tomba’s
time, including the Norwegian favorites Aamodt and
Jagge. In the end, only Thomas Stangassinger of Austria,
the leader after the first run, was faster, taking gold by just
.15 seconds.
a glass trophy at a photographer in December ’95 - for
allegedly taking nude photos of him in a sauna. Another time
The Italian sensation
fail one after another,” said Tomba. “The strangest thing
he reputedly damaged a gondola in Veysonnaz, Switzerland
became the first and
was the reaction of the people. They didn’t seem to care
when it didn’t stop where he wanted it to. And in Lake
only alpine skier to
about Stangassinger, celebrating me more than him. I
Louise, Canada, he was accused of bad behavior when he
win medals at three
was surprised when the press and people came to me like
knocking a woman over by cutting into a lift line. Tomba
consecutive Olympics
I was first. It was so unexpected and I felt like I was on
was told he’d be banned from the Super G there unless
another planet.”
he publicly apologized. He refused, saying he’d already
“It was so unreal, I was in the finish seeing the skiers
The Italian sensation became the first and only alpine
skier to win medals at three consecutive Olympics.
Later that same season, Tomba finally captured his first
apologized to her. The race went ahead without him.
“He only made fairly minor mistakes, but he was
always criticized because he was such a star,” said Merlo.
overall World Cup title. Over the course of his illustrious
“But I think the criticism taught him to behave properly
career, he also earned four slalom titles and four in GS.
because all eyes were always on him.”
He amassed 50 World Cup victories (35 slalom, 15
Asked what he’d most like to be remembered for,
giant slalom), ranking third all-time only behind Hermann
Tomba replies: “For my spirit and capacity to transform
Maier’s 54 and Ingemar Stenmark’s 86.
difficult moments into simple ones, to face fault and
Tomba was less successful at World Championships,
but still managed two gold medals in Sierra Nevada,
Spain in 1996. His two bronze medals came in 1987 at
the age of 20, and in 1997, in Sestriere, Italy.
The Italian skiing icon would get one last shot at
celebrate victories. To lead my life without compromise
and to enjoy every moment.”
In Vancouver this February, Tomba, now 43, will be
working with Sky Italy interviewing athletes, skiing with
medalists, and contributing to the satellite channel’s
Olympic glory in Nagano, Japan in 1998. However, his
Olympic coverage. He will also be commentating for Italian
performance was a sign that a brilliant career was winding
Eurosport in the weeks leading up to the Games.
down. He crashed badly in the GS, and didn’t start in the
second slalom run after sustaining an injury.
“It was my last Olympics as an athlete, and I will
remember the atmosphere, fans, other Italians that won
medals, friends and the snow,” said Tomba.
Alberto retired at the end of the ’98 season, but not
After so many years of astounding achievements,
accolades, adulation and wild adventures, what
possibly could remain for the Olympic legend and Italian
“The only goal I miss for the moment is to have my
own family,” he says. “For sure I would like to have
before winning one last slalom at the World Cup finals in
children. I’ve grown up in a family with values and I’m
Crans-Montana, Switzerland. In doing so, he became the
waiting to find the right woman to build a family together.”
only male alpine skier to win at least one World Cup race
Tomba’s own mother was always a hugely important
for 11 straight seasons.
influence on his career – he always said the reason he
However, his career wasn’t without incident. The
never raced in downhill was because she didn’t want
sometimes hot-tempered Italian received bad press for his
him to. Fatherhood would make his mother, and for that
actions on three occasions. One involved Alberto throwing
matter all of Italy, proud one more time.
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