Winter Olympics: Muted farewell for La Bomba

THE great Alberto Tomba, bones aching and hopes dashed, pulled out of his last Olympic race yesterday, his dream of a medal in four consecutive Winter Games gone.

But Norway found somebody almost as flamboyant as Tomba to lead home their one-two in the slalom. Hans-Petter Buraas, with an unmistakable shock of orange hair and pierced eyebrow, came from behind to win ahead of Ole Christian Furuseth and the first-run leader, Thomas Sykora of Austria.

By that time, Tomba had already turned taciturn to the world. He watched the finale in seclusion from his hotel room - La Bomba ending his decade- long Olympic adventure without his trademark bang. The Italian was well back in 17th position after the first run, almost two seconds behind, before he announced his withdrawal.

He still felt so sore from the spill he took in the giant slalom two days earlier that even an attempt at one of his speciality second-run comebacks was out of the question. "He is very sorry to have to make this decision," an Italian team official said. "But he realised he could not win a medal."

Four years ago, the 31-year-old stormed from 12th position in the first run to take silver at the Lillehammer Games. But this time a moderate earthquake that shook buildings close to the Shiga Kogen course during the first run seemed to underline his rattled condition.

Another favourite crashed out when Wayne Gretzky, "The Great One", was sent packing without an Olympic medal following Finland's 3-2 win over Canada in the ice hockey play-off for bronze.

It completed a shocking wipeout for "The Dream Teams" from North America, despite fielding two teams of professional superstars from the National Hockey League. This morning's final pitting Russia against the Czech Republic also included many NHL imports.