Part of Tomba's allure is his insouciance. He once said that his dream race included a glass of wine before the start and a cigarette midway down before crossing the line in first place. "Yes, he's like the guy who says he doesn't play golf but hits his first drive a mile down the fairway because he's done nothing but practice for months," says Tomas Karlsson, the U.S. men's coach. "Tomba works very hard." Last summer Tomba cut 25 days off the beginning of his standard training regimen in Argentina and Chile but redoubled the intensity of his workouts. He returned home ski-buffed, his 200 pounds stripped of the heft that seemed to plague him between Olympics.
Tomba opened the 1994-95 season with a fourth-place finish in the giant slalom in Tignes, France, but having finished 21st in the first run, he was ecstatic after a second run that lifted him one step from the podium. "The most important thing is to be convinced of your chances," Tomba said Sunday. "Being first in that second run in Tignes was a great moment. That helped me do well because it made me believe. Another great moment was [the GS] in Alta Badia [Italy], where I was surprised to do well." In a slalom on Dec. 22 Tomba made a mistake midway down the course that turned him sideways to a gate and brought him to a full stop. He straightened out, pointed his skis south and won the race. He celebrated a la Bomba, somersaulting at the finish line, blowing kisses to his fans and then kneeling to kiss his dog, Yukon.
"He's almost unbeatable now," says Girardelli, who was second at Garmisch, "and I don't see any rivals for the World Cup championship." Tomba's path has been cleared by injuries—some major, some nagging—to top skiers such as Michael Von Grünigen of Switzerland, Lillehammer Olympic slalom gold medalist Thomas Stangassinger of Austria and 1994 World Cup champion Kjetil-André Aamodt of Norway. But Tomba has leaped ahead of all the competition by achieving frightening speeds in a sport where hundredths of a second usually separate racers.
Tomba is not a textbook skier like Von Grünigen, but one thing he has over his rivals is science. This is not the science of skis and wax. This is the science of force and angles, the ability to put pressure on his skis to keep them running fast. "In a way, Tomba is very un-Italian because he is so quiet on his skis," says Karlsson. "Gustavo Theoni [the current Italian coach] and the other great Italians were very quick but very nervous, moving a lot. Tomba is efficient. He wastes nothing." His dominance has been so absurd, he drew laughs instead of cheers when his first run at Garmisch on Sunday was a second ahead of the two racers who skied the course before him. Tomba plays the clown without even trying.
There is only one question remaining for Tomba this season: Can he win an overall World Cup championship without picking up points in the speed events, the downhill or the Super G? Probably not. Comellini said Tomba will decide at the end of January if he will enter the Super G at the world championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain, which begin Jan. 30. Tomba broke his collarbone in 1989 at a Super G in Val d'Isère, France, and since then he has stayed away from that event. Tomba says that he isn't scared. Simply prudent. But the possibility of winning a World Cup title, which would affirm his place in the skiers' pantheon, might entice him to try the Super G. As for the downhill, forget it. When Tomba was a kid his mother, Maria, forbade him from racing the downhill, and he has no intention of starting now.
Before the season Tomba also vowed this would be his last year of skiing competitively. "Tomba," Comellini said, sighing, "says a lot of things." Tomba has backtracked on that promise, saying Sunday that he would simply consider his options in the spring "when the flowers come out and everything is fine."
"We will see Alberto then," said Claudio Gubellini, who with the 40 other members of the Tomba Club headed their cars back through Austria after singing themselves hoarse and dancing themselves warm following Sunday's race in 20° weather. "He has a big house and a big pool, and he invites us over. He is very rich but very genuine. He has the human touch, which is why we come to his races. It's very important to him that his people are around."
Is Tomba a good swimmer?
"Of course." Gubellini said. "He is a very eclectic man."