Skiing: Only one chance for Tomba

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The Independent Online
THE Japanese doll hanging at the front door of the main press centre might just be responsible for the weather chaos which struck the World Championships yesterday.

The traditional doll, a metre- high sheet figure with a face painted on paper, was put up last weekend at the height of rainstorms which threatened to wash away the second most important competition in Alpine skiing.

But the goblin-like good-luck figure now appears to have brought more snow than necessary, making it problematic for the competition to conclude on time this weekend.

High winds which gusted up to 30 metres per second forced the men's and women's super-giant slaloms to be called off yesterday. Mount Kotakakura, where the back-to-back events were to be held, was raked by blowing snow which ruined visibility. The weather forecast up until tomorrow is for more of the same. In addition, the men's slalom, featuring Alberto Tomba, must also be raced.

While the forecast is troubling, it cannot be more than a minor inconvenience to the sturdy Swiss- Germans of the International Ski Federation.

The barons of a sport which lives by the grace of television were extremely lucky on Thursday when both downhills were successfully held on the same day.

That took away a lot of the pressure from worldwide broadcasters and the ski teams themselves. With results from the blue-riband races now filed away, finding time for the final three events might not have the same sense of urgency.

With the World Championships admittedly as much a commercial exercise as anything else, the mission as far as officialdom is concerned has been accomplished. Asia's 14m skiers have had a major event in their own windblown backyard. Lucrative contracts have been signed and commercial arrangements forged.

No international official has been without a five-star bed for the night, a driver and car, an interpreter and plenty of free food. Business class (or better) airline tickets back to Europe are waiting. The new frontier of 'the ski sport' as the Swiss always seem to call it, has been conquered.

Plan A for this morning calls for a second attempt to stage the super-giant slaloms. If the wind is too great, the men's slalom will have been cued up as Plan B. That will give Italy's Tomba his first and last chance to compete here.

The triple Olympic title-holder is already fuming at the sport's governing body, the FIS, for putting on the calendar more of the events which he does not race (downhills, super-giant slalom and the combined) than the ones which he does (slalom and giant slalom) during the current World Cup season.

Tomba was counting on doing well in the giant slalom at Shizukuishi, but the FIS moved the race from yesterday to last Tuesday in a last-minute weather change. The Italian was ill at the time with a serious stomach virus and missed the competition.

'Fate and the FIS are against me here,' he complained. 'My chances are now down to the slalom.' The Italian said that he hopes to be at least 80 per cent fit on race day, adding: 'Missing the GS was one of the toughest moments of my career.'

(Photograph omitted)