Skiing: Cloudy outlook troubles Tomba

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The Independent Online
A HOWL of protest is expected from the Italian team this morning if the men's slalom at the World Championships is staged as a late substitute for the men's downhill event. With four days and five races remaining until the end of a 12-day competition which has been at the mercy of the weather, the organisers are hoping to hold both the blue-riband men's and women's downhills today. But if snow and wind - forecast for tomorrow - move in early, the men's race will be replaced by the slalom.

Should that happen, Alberto Tomba's chances of winning a medal at the championships will be reduced to virtually nil. The triple Olympic champion was forced to miss the giant slalom, which ended yesterday, and he has still not fully recovered from a stomach virus.

The late decision on the day's programme will be taken this morning. If the women's downhill is also postponed, there will be no replacement event for it.

Two races were completed yesterday. Carole Merle, of France, finally succeeded in a major championship by winning the gold medal in the giant slalom. The victory made up for the three silver medals she acquired in the World Championships of 1989 and 1991 and the Albertville Olympics. The 29-year-old, with a time of 2 min 17.59 sec, beat off the Austrian Anita Wachter (2:17.99) and the German newcomer, Martina Ertl (2:18.70).

Wachter's giant slalom silver matched that of her boyfriend, Rainer Salzgeber, in the men's event and in the spirit of Valentine's Day they both attributed some of their success to the other. Salzgeber, who finished behind the Norwegian Kjetil Aamodt, said of Wachter: 'She contributed to my serenity today,' while she responded: 'He is a great help psychologically.'

Marc Girardelli, who races for Luxembourg, pulled out of the men's downhill yesterday. His father, Helmut, who coaches him, called the course 'half-jumping and half cross-country' and said his son was not prepared to take any undue risks.