Tomba Wins 2nd Gold in Skiing
By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 1988; Page D1
West German Frank Woerndl, the somewhat surprising leader after the first run of the men's slalom, was just a bit too slow on his second run today, allowing Tomba to beat him by six one-hundredths of a second in the closest men's slalom race in Olympic history.
By that tiny margin, Tomba became king of the mountain at the Olympics, the first male skier to win two Alpine gold medals in eight years. His fans chanted his name and sang him songs. He was lifted above the crowd by his coach and teammates. He raised his thumbs up, then buried his head in his hands.
I'm super happy, Tomba said later. The other day when I won the giant slalom was the first time in my life I was in tears. Today was the second time.
Tomba raced the two runs of the slalom course at snowy Nakiska in 1 minute 39.47 seconds. Woerndl finished in 1:39.53. Paul Frommelt of Liechtenstein won the bronze with a time of 1:39.84.
Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, the last male skier to win two gold medals at an Olympics when he did it in the slalom and giant slalom in 1980, finished fifth in 1:40.22, just behind Bernhard Gstrein of Austria (1:40.08).
"It was good I was not ashamed, as I was in the giant slalom [when he pulled out after a poor first run]. If I hadn't done well today, people would have said, 'Why was he there?' " said Stenmark, who will be 32 next month and undoubtedly was racing in his last Olympics.
Stenmark was the fastest man down the second run today, which was fitting. He skied well before Tomba, who ended up with the second-fastest time on the second run. Stenmark's time on the first run was too slow to get him a medal; Tomba improved just enough to win his gold.
They are more than 10 years apart, the stars of their respective skiing generations. Stenmark watched Tomba ski not long ago and said he thought Tomba would be the best slalom skier of all time.
"I'm very proud and happy to prove him right," Tomba said. "At age 32, for him to be fifth in the slalom is absolutely incredible."
And what does it mean to be 21 and the new hero of the skiing world?
"My schedule is crowded, but, for part of my schedule, I'd like to meet Katarina Witt," Tomba said. "I'd like to watch her skate first, before I meet her. If Katarina doesn't make a gold medal, I'll give one of mine to her."
Tomba was in far more danger of not winning today than he was Thursday, when he led from the first minute and won by more than a second.
This morning, racing 11th on the first run, he came in third, .63 of a second behind Woerndl and .18 of a second behind Sweden's Jonas Nilsson.
Tomba was not pleased with his starting position. He said he would have rather gone first, as he did Thursday. By the time 10 skiers had gone before him, the course had developed ruts and times were slower. To prove his point, Woerndl had gone first on the first run and Nilsson had gone second.
But Tomba knew that the top 15 finishers in the first run would go in reverse order on the second run. The 15th would be first, the first (Woerndl) would be 15th. He would go 13th and have to wait for Nilsson and Woerndl to come after him before he knew if he had won.
Still, Tomba was concerned. "In the first run at the end, I made a big mistake and I thought maybe I would make a bronze medal. I would have been satisfied with that," he said. His big mistake was not noticeable to the naked eye, but he knew he had time to make up in the second run. So he went all out, charging the slalom gates as usual, but with an intensity that few others had shown this day. When he got to the bottom, his time was 47.85 seconds. He was in first place, but the other two were still up on the mountain.
Nilsson was not a factor, coming down in 48.79 seconds. But Woerndl, a 28-year-old customs officer in the offseason who won the slalom at last year's world championships, certainly could win.
But somewhere in the middle of the course, Woerndl said he lost his concentration. "For five or six gates, I heard people yelling," he said. "I was very angry with myself. I said, 'Hey, Frank, what are you doing? Get your concentration and go.' "
His time on the big scoreboard that Tomba was watching was 48.54 seconds. In a split second, his name registered in the standings. He was second. Tomba was first.
"I said, 'Okay, you're second, you have a medal,' " Woerndl said.
"I was very, very happy," Tomba said. "Now that I have this second gold, I am so happy. I certainly had a little luck."
Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland finished seventh in 1:40.48, right behind Nilsson.
© Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company
Olympics Front | Sport by Sport | Gallery | History | Nagano | Countries