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Tomba completes historic Alpine defence

The giant slalom in Albertville attracted a record number of participants, with over 130 skiers signed up to compete. No event at a Winter Games had ever attracted more. Only a small number of those had a realistic chance of winning, among them the reigning champion - Italy’s Alberto Tomba.

No Alpine skier in Olympic history had managed to win the same event twice. Tomba’s gold medal four years before had been the result of aggressive, fearless skiing, and he seemed to spend the next two years celebrating. His form dipped notably and, after watching from the sidelines, the Italian Ski Federation finally took decisive action by giving him a new coaching team to work on his physique, tactics and preparation.

It worked. By the time Tomba arrived in Albertville, he had returned to winning ways on the World Cup circuit and was back among the favourites for an Olympic gold. But he also faced other in-form skiers, including Marc Girardelli, the Austrian-born Swiss resident who was representing Luxembourg.

The early leader in the first run was Norway's Kjetil André Aamodt, but then Tomba clocked a time that was over 0.2 seconds faster to overtake him. Girardelli ended up 0.13 seconds slower than the Italian in second place at the halfway stage, giving the champion a margin that was handy, but hardly comfortable.

With the starting order of the leaders reversed for the second run, Girardelli produced another excellent run, crossing the line in 1 minute 2.60 seconds. While he knew it wouldn’t be easy, Tomba was aware he could beat that mark.

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However, the reigning champion made a poor start. He couldn't match Girardelli's speed over the first half of the course, and it looked as if the gold medal was slipping from his grasp. But then, Tomba somehow cranked himself into top gear and attacked the bottom half of the course, picking up speed and eating into Girardelli's advantage. As he crossed the line, Tomba had no idea if he had won the gold medal – until he heard the celebrations of his jubilant supporters.

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