Originally created 12/31/98

Arrivederci, Alberto! Tomba skis farewell race



SESTRIERE, Italy -- Blowing kisses to his fans and hoisted on the shoulders of his rivals, Alberto Tomba skied his farewell race Wednesday night on his favorite course.

The Italian ski great, who announced his retirement last October, finished ahead of world champion Michael Von Gruenigen and other World Cup stars in a short three-run giant slalom exhibition under the lights.

The 32-year-old star joked about a comeback at the 1999 world championships in Vail, Colo., but quickly added he was indeed through.

"It's over for me, on skis," he said. "I gave a lot, perhaps too much. ... I no longer have motivations. I won everything. .... After 15 years on the World Cup circuit I was really sick."

Tomba, a three-time Olympic champion, recently started an acting career, playing the role of a policeman nicknamed Alex the Ram.

On Wednesday, before thousands of fans on a foggy and snowy night, Tomba placed third in his very last race. He finished behind Paul Accola and Patrick Holzer in the exhibition through 20 gates.

Tomba had the fastest time in the first run but finished third overall, 0.12 behind the Swiss winner. Von Gruenigen, who won the world giant slalom title at Sestriere in 1997, finished .01 seconds behind Tomba.

"I never doubted about Tomba," said Slovenia's Jure Kosir, who was fifth. "He still is great. You can't forget skiing in a few months."

Tomba, who won the first of 50 World Cup races in this Italian resort in 1987, skied his last World Cup slalom in Crans Montana, Switzerland, last March when he capped his sensational career with a victory.

"They let the granddad make the podium for the last time," said Tomba, smiling at the finish line before being mobbed by fans who chanted his name and played horns.

"I made wonders in the first run despite cramps and untested skis. I was tense because so many people had come here to celebrate me."

Tomba practiced only three days for his farewell race, which was held at the site where he won six World Cup races between 1987 and 1995.

"I was busy playing Alex," Tomba said. "It's a difficult job. But I enjoyed shooting love scenes."

Gustav Thoeni, Tomba's former personal coach, said Tomba "proved he still is one of the best world skiers. However, he already gave a lot, and deserves to retire."

Tomba captured as many headlines for his antics as for his skiing talent. Now skiing will have to look elsewhere.

As one large sign at the finish line read: "We no longer enjoy ski races without Alberto."