Competition Celebrity File: Amen For The Messiah

Fall Line

In a flamboyant 12-year career that ended this fall, Italy’s Alberto Tomba not only won 50 World Cup races and five Olympic medals but did so while living the life of a globe-trotting playboy. When he was asked by his coaches to concentrate more on racing than his social life during the 1992 Albertville Olympics, the self-proclaimed “Messiah of Skiing” made this concession: “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 am. In the Olympic Village, I will live it up with five women until 3 am.” The training regimen apparently worked: Tomba became the first skier in history to repeat as a gold medalist in the giant slalom.

Tomba almost single-handedly carried the men’s World Cup through the Nineties as he set new benchmarks both for racing and generating fan and media attention. In 1995, some 50,000 Tomba-maniacs showed up to watch him win the overall World Cup title as he proceeded to a career World Cup record second only to Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 wins. A skier with a linebacker’s mentality, Tomba ran over gates as much as skied around them, eventually wearing a helmet in giant slalom competition, one of the first racers to do so.

The son of affluent clothiers in Bologna, Italy, Tomba did more than win, he exalted in each moment, once parading around the finish area wearing little more than shorts and a red tie. He was also a master of the psych-out: Tomba might be seen drinking red wine with lady friends at 2 am the night before a big race, but odds were he’d trained hard all day, been in bed since 9 pm and awoke only for the photo opp.

When Tomba announced his retirement in November, he was in the midst of filming an action-romance movie in which he plays an Italian Bruce Willis. His duty, not surprisingly, is to protect a witness who happens to be a gorgeous woman. “Everybody is waiting for me with a gun,” laughs Tomba as he explains his new role over the phone. Guess who ends up with the girl? Off To The Races
For the second time in a decade, Beaver Creek will be the site of the World Alpine Championships, set for Jan. 30-Feb. 14, 1999. (See preview beginning on page 108.) Last spring, Beaver Creek unwittingly hosted the less publicized but no less competitive World Escalator Ski Championships.On the final night of SKI Magazine’s annual ski test last April, tester Reidar Wahl, a two-time World Pro Champion and former Norwegian national team member, challenged Olympic mogul medalist and World Cup champion Nelson Carmichael to a head-to-head race on an unusual venue: Beaver Creek’s newly installed dual escalators. Crews feverishly shoveled snow and packed the course.As the clock neared midnight, Wahl and Carmichael (shown) frantically poled out of the start. A crowd of 30-plus fans packed the race arena, including a Beaver Creek security guard who was less than thrilled to see this unsanctioned event take place under his watch. After two tight heats, Wahl narrowly prevailed over Carmichael. “I knew if I just skied my race I would overtake him,” said Wahl. “After all, I had the down escalator.”Course StatsThe Escalator
Vertical Drop 25 feet
Length 50 feet
Grade 45 degrees
Surface Grooved stainless steel
Speed 13 mph
Course Designer Schlinder
Course Record 6.73 seconds
(Held by: Reidar Wahl)Birds Of Prey
Vertical Drop 2,484 feet
Length 8,606 feet
Grade 29 degrees
Surface Ice
Speed 80 mph
Course Designer Bernhard Russi
Course Record 1:41.16
(Held by: Kristin Ghedina)