At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Alberto Tomba – Italy’s greatest skier

Playboy showman who won three Olympic golds

Alberto Tomba (right) pictured with the  legendary Austrian skier Franz Klammer
Alberto Tomba (right) pictured with the
legendary Austrian skier Franz Klammer 
Italy’s greatest alpine ski racer, Alberto Tomba, was born on this day in 1966 in San Lazzaro di Savena, a town in Emilia-Romagna that now forms part of the metropolitan city of Bologna.

Tomba – popularly known as ‘Tomba la Bomba’ – won three Olympic gold medals, two World Championships and won no fewer than nine titles in thirteen World Cup seasons, between 1986 and 1998.

The only other Italian Alpine skiers with comparable records are Gustav Thoni, who won two Olympic golds and four World Championships in the 1970s, and Deborah Compagnoni, who won three golds at both the Olympics and the World Championships between 1992 and 1998.

Thoni would later be a member of Tomba’s coaching team.

Tomba had showmanship to match his talent on the slopes. Always eager to seek out the most chic nightclubs wherever he was competing, he would drive around the centre of Bologna in an open-topped Ferrari, flaunting both his wealth and his fame.

At his peak, he would arrive with his entourage in the exclusive ski resort at Aspen, Colorado to hold open house at his rented chalet on Buttermilk Mountain, with the rich and famous desperate to be invited.

At his peak, Tomba cultivated a glamorous image
At his peak, Tomba cultivated
a glamorous image
Never short of confidence when it came to the opposite sex, Tomba once famously asked the German skater Katarina Witt for a date just as she was coming off the ice as an Olympic champion at the Winter Games in Calgary in 1988 and partied the night away with the winner of a Miss Italia competition in which he was one of the judges.

He never let his appetite for a full social life take away his competitive edge, however.  Much as he was captivated with the glamorous Witt, he took the gold medals in both the slalom and the giant slalom at the same Games.

Tomba’s love for skiing came from his father, Franco, a successful businessman in the textiles industry. Bologna is a long way from the Alps, the background from which most skiing champions emerge, but Monte Cimone, the highest peak in the Apennines, was not too far away and Franco thought nothing of driving from their home to the slopes at Sestola, even though it could take two and half hours each way.

He would often take Alberto and his older brother Marco along with him and Alberto was a proficient skier from the age of three and competing by the time he was seven.  He took part in the Junior World Championships at the age of 17 and made his World Cup debut in 1985, three days before his 19th birthday.

Early in 1987 he won his first medal – bronze in the giant slalom – at the World Championships in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, and in November of the same year scored the first of his 50 World Cup race wins, in the slalom, and two days later the second, defeating his idol, Ingemar Stenmark, in the giant slalom.

Tomba's double Olympic gold at the 1988 Winter Games was commemorated on a postage stamp in Paraguay
Tomba's double Olympic gold at the 1988 Winter Games
was commemorated on a postage stamp in Paraguay
After a relatively lean couple of years, he returned to form to win his second World Championship giant slalom title in 1991 and in 1992 was almost unstoppable, clocking up nine World Cup wins to take the slalom and giant slalom titles, and winning his third Olympic gold, in the slalom, at the Albertville Games in France.

He was overall World Cup champion for the only time in his career in 1995, amassing 11 individual race wins, and in 1996 won double World Championship gold, taking the slalom and the giant slalom at Sierra Nevada in Spain.

Tomba retired at the end of the 1998 season, but not before notching the last of his 50 World Cup race wins at in the season finale at Crans-Montana, in doing so becoming the only male alpine skier to have won at least one World Cup race per year for 11 consecutive seasons.

In part, it was the constant attention that came with fame that caused him to quit at the age of 31.  On one occasion, his temper got the better of him and he threw his winner’s trophy at a photographer he had spotted from the podium, who he knew was responsible for picture of him naked in a sauna.

He had also broken up with his girlfriend, former Miss Italy Martina Colombari, because she found photographers and journalists were too intrusive.  He admitted too that, having won everything in his disciplines, the urge to compete was not quite as sharp as before.

Nowadays, Tomba lives his life at a slower pace, insisting he prefers a stimulating conversation over dinner and to drink wine with friends rather than to stay out until the early hours. He has never married and says any future bride would have to cook tagliatelle Bolognese as well as his mother.

He still skis, but not in places such as Sestriere in Italy, where he would still be recognised even in goggles and with a ski hat pulled down over his head.  Instead, he heads for Idaho or New Mexico.

At other times, he devotes his energy to the Laureus World Sports Academy and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, working to spread the positive influence of sport and to help young people learn respect, discipline and loyalty, to stay away from drugs, crime and hate and, through sport, to experience how people from different countries, of different colour or social class can be equals.

Unusual rock formations abound in the chalky landscape around San Lazzaro di Savena
Unusual rock formations abound in the chalky landscape
around San Lazzaro di Savena
Travel tip:

The town of San Lazzaro di Savena, where Tomba grew up – specifically in the Castel de Britti area – has grown from the one-time site of a leprosy isolation unit to a thriving municipal area of greater Bologna, its population having risen to more than 32,000 through industrial development and its expansion as a housing area for Bologna.  Situated only 6km (3.6 miles) from the centre of Bologna along the Via Appia, it is not far from the popular caving area of the Parco deo Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell’Abbadessa.

A typically wintry scene in Sestriere
A typically wintry scene in Sestriere
Travel tip:

Sestriere, a village completely surrounded by mountains on the pass that links Val Chisone and Val Susa to the west of Turin and close to the French border, was developed as a ski resort in 1930s by Giovanni Agnelli, the FIAT founder. It has a number of hotels and ski lodges, including two landmark tower-block hotels that were the first buildings of the Agnelli development. The ski slopes, of which there are 146 accessible from the village, were one of the main venues in the 2006 Winter Olympics, have twice hosted the skiing World Championships and regular stage World Cup events.  In the winter months, the population of the area soars from less than 1,000 to more than 20,000.

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