Alberto Tomba, jeered at the start and cheered at the finish, charged to slalom gold and his second title at the world championships in Sierra Nevada yesterday.
The Italian put in a perfect second run down the Neveros piste for a combined time of 1min 42.26sec. Austria's Mario Reiter took the silver medal, 0.31sec behind the triple Olympic gold medallist, while Switzerland's Michael Von Grunigen was third in 1:42.81.
Tomba, who won the giant slalom title on Friday, was only sixth after a first leg won surprisingly by 1992 Olympic champion Finn-Christian Jagge. The Norwegian has been struggling with his form this season.
But the 29-year-old Italian, who upset the Spanish fans before his arrival last week when he was reported comparing the Spanish resort to Morocco, had a remarkable second run. As the crowd saw his intermediate time, the early whistles which had greeted his departure from the hut were replaced by applause.
"This is one of the best races I have ever run," Tomba declared after the event, which closed the two-week championships with Italy top of the medals table. "I was just going for a medal. To win two golds is beyond my wildest dreams." Italy ended the championships with four gold medals.
Tomba's second gold meant he shared the honours of best skier at the championships with Sweden's Pernilla Wiberg, who won the women's slalom and combined titles.
He also became the first Italian to win a championship slalom gold since Piero Gros triumphed at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, which doubled as world championships.
Tomba won two gold medals at the 1988 Calgary Olympics but said he considered his two titles in Spain more important. "I think this is an even bigger achievement. These are medals I had to really work and suffer for," he said.
Luxembourg's combined world champion, Marc Girardelli, did not start the race, due to back pain resulting from a crash during the giant slalom. Austria's Olympic champion, Thomas Stangassinger, was also absent because of illness.Reuse content