MOUNT ALLAN, ALBERTA, FEB. 25 -- For the man called "Tomba la Bomba," the spoils of victory came the second after he crossed the finish line as the new skiing hero of the Winter Olympics.
He had won the gold medal in the giant slalom, a glamor event of these Olympics. He had defeated Pirmin Zurbriggen, who many had expected to be the star of the Games. He had predicted his own victory.
So he slid on his skis toward his raucous Italian countrymen who were pressed against a fence, waving their flags and chanting his name. He turned sharply and sprayed snow in their jubilant faces. He laughed.
Then, Alberto Tomba, 21 years old, tall, dark, handsome and probably headed for Hollywood, was swallowed up by the adoring crowd, which pushed so hard to be close to him it bent the fence to the ground.
Tomba raced down the two runs of the giant slalom course at Nakiska in 2 minutes 6.37 seconds. Austrian Hubert Strolz, the gold medalist in the Alpine combined last week, won the silver medal in 2:07.41 and Switzerland's Zurbriggen, the gold medalist in the downhill, won the bronze in 2:08.39.
After being hoisted on too many shoulders to count, Tomba came to earth long enough to say, in Italian, "I'm no beast. I'm no Bomba. I'm just a happy man today."
Tears welled in his eyes as he spoke.
He has said he wants to be a movie star. He stopped and smiled for all the cameras. His father, a wealthy textile plant owner in Bologna, promised him a Ferrari if he won an Olympic medal.
"I want it red," Alberto said this afternoon.
The competition began at 10:30 a.m. (MST) and wasn't officially over until after 3 p.m. But, for all intents and purposes, it was over slightly under 64 seconds after it began. Tomba wore No. 1 today over his blue racing suit. He was the first skier on the course. His time was sensational: 1:03.91. No one came within a second of him. Unless he mamaged to fall in the second run, he was untouchable.
While the course was being reset for the second run, Tomba was brimming with confidence.
"I can do as I wish," he said.
Zurbriggen was third after the first run when he nearly fell. Both of his skis flared out on a turn near the top. It was all he could do to keep his balance.
"I lost a lot of time," Zurbriggen said. "I'm sorry the course was so short. I needed it to be longer to catch up."
Zurbriggen, the defending World Cup giant slalom champion, was expected to breeze into the giant slalom with several medals, perhaps all gold. But a fall in the combined and a poor finish in the super giant slalom left him with only the one gold. This was to be his last best chance to win a gold. On Saturday, the men's slalom will be run. It is Zurbriggen's worst event.
Tomba, four years younger than Zurbriggen, is an Alberto-come-lately to world-class skiing. He won seven of 12 pre-Olympic World Cup races this season and declared himself a favorite in the giant slalom and slalom, his best races. Although he skied off the course after only three gates in the super giant slalom and suffered a mild knee injury, he declared, "The giant slalom and slalom are my own races, the titles I can't miss."
Said Tomba: "My resurrection is near."
Anyone who saw his first run this morning certainly would believe it. Tomba blew into and around the slalom gates with not one glitch. He was almost too steady for words, considering the speed at which he was traveling.
"He's humming today," said Tiger Shaw of the United States, who finished 12th in 2:10.23 to lead the Americans. "When you watch his upper body, you think he's skiing on glass, even when it's rough."
Every hero needs a dramatic entrance at the climactic moment, and Tomba's was stunning. For the second run, he waited at the top of the mountain as his closest competitors went before him. An Italian named Ivano Camozzi barreled down five places ahead of Tomba and stood third when he was done. He was handed an Italian flag with balloons attached and waved it as he slowed to a stop. As it turns out, he was the warmup act for Tomba. Eventually, Camozzi dropped to fourth with a total time of 2:08.77.
Down came Zurbriggen, charging hard, trying to make up 1.66 seconds. When he finished, he had the second-best run of the second round to that point: 1:02.82. He was in first place, with Strolz and Tomba yet to come. The crowd assembled at the midmountain finish line yelled as never before.
Strolz, a tactician known for his grace on the slalom course, came next and beat Zurbriggen with a time of 1:02.36. The spectators buzzed. The Alberto-Pirmin battle had a third combatant.
Still, it was Zurbriggen who squinted into the glare off the steep incline, waiting for Tomba to emerge from around a corner for the last 10 seconds of his run. It was Zurbriggen who looked at the electronic scoreboard to see that Tomba had skied the second run in 1:02.46, a bit slower than Strolz, but well within the margin needed to win. And it was Zurbriggen who was the first competitor to shake Tomba's hand.
It was a wonderful day for Tomba, but not so for legend Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden and Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg. Stenmark, 31, covered the first run in 1:08.49 and decided to skip the second.
Girardelli, who has had elbow problems and disputes with his ski manufacturer, finished 20th in 2:11.79.
Joerg Oberhammer, a doctor for the Austrian Ski Federation, was killed at Nakiska today when, on skis, he collided with another skier and fell into the path of a snow-grooming machine. Swiss skier Martin Hangl was overcome by emotion upon seeing the accident, collapsed in the starting gate and could not make the second run . . . .
During the second run, skiers from Canada, Bolivia and Morocco were disqualified because they did not have proper certification for their racing suits. No skiers from those countries were in contention for a medal . . .
Kevin Wilson of Middleburg, Va., who competes for the Puerto Rican team, finished 61st.