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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Tomba la Bomba' Back in Form for Olympics

NEW YORK -- The morning newspaper delivered last Monday to Phil Mahre's home in Yakima, Washington, contained one nugget of enlightenment. "I saw Tomba won a World Cup slalom," Mahre, 1984 U.S. slalom gold medalist, said by telephone later that day. "So, looks like he's back in form right before the Olympics. Again." Right before the Olympics.

"In between Olympics, you don't hear much from him," Mahre said. "But then he rises to the occasion."

Statistically, Tomba, 27, is the only Alpine skier in history to win gold medals in consecutive Olympics (the giant slalom in Calgary in '88 and Albertville in '92; he also won the slalom in Calgary, a total of three gold medals). In Lillehammer, he could become the first Alpine skier to win four gold medals and the first to win golds -- or medals of any metal -- at three consecutive Games.

Then again, if statistics are Tomba's legacy, they also color him black and white when actually he is a thousand other colors. He is the flashing "Tomba la Bomba," the erstwhile playboy of the mountain. It is Tomba who, in 1988, before winning his two golds in Calgary, won a World Cup race and told an interviewer, "I really lack the words to compliment myself today."

"He has accomplished some things that no other skier has," Mahre said. "But it's always been hit and miss with him, he's never sustained consistency over time. He's never won an overall World Cup title, which means a lot more than gold medals -- inside the ski industry.

"Outside the ski industry," Mahre said, "gold medals mean everything."

Precisely. The simplest reason for Tomba's failure to win a World Cup overall title is that he does not ski downhills (legend has it, because his mother feared him participating in the downhill, the most dangerous of the Alpine persuasions). But also, because he is fabulously inconsistent even in the slalom and giant slalom -- his specialties.

Through this winter's World Cup run, Tomba has been typically unpredictable. However, he remains a unique skier, powerful and daring. Much like Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who won two golds on Whiteface Mountain in 1980, Tomba promises swift, telling second runs. He can intimidate opponents, with charm and with talent.

There is a final consideration, also, for Tomba as he reaches Lillehammer. The current overall World Cup leader is Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway, who will be competing for gold medals in front of his countrymen. Aamodt won the slalom, giant slalom and overall World Cup titles last year and is regarded, along with Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg, as one of the two best skiers in the world.

Tomba is used to drama and also to support. He is an icon in Italy, only slightly less in other European mountain locales. In Lillehammer, he will be an aging underdog and a villain, too. All of which seems perfectly fashioned for him to win more gold. Back in form.