It was 30 years ago, almost to the day, December 1993.
Alberto Tomba is waiting for me at the bottom of the slopes, in Stoneham, a few days before the giant slalom and slalom events of the Alpine Ski World Cup.
The teams are busy at the station. Radio-Canada TV is preparing an interview with French skier Franck Piccard. TQS has just arrived.
“Mr. Tomba, hello…”
Leaning heavily on his poles, the 26-year-old three-time Olympic gold medalist barely looks up. I extend my hand, giving him little choice to greet me. Which doesn’t stop him from continuing to chat in Italian on his walkie-talkie.
Alberto Tomba is in bad shape. Or maybe not.
It’s hard to say. And I wasn’t going to ask him.
Since his double at the Calgary Games in 1988, in slalom and giant slalom, he has been a regular on the podium and his notoriety transcends his sport. We call him La Bomba, and not just because he is explosive on his skis. Friendly and joking, he never denied his reputation as a party animal.
But this morning, La Bomba looks more like a sleeping bear.
And how do you conduct an interview with a bear?
We keep our distance and we go there carefully.
« How are you ? »
After a few usual questions about the resort and the Quebec cold, for which I am entitled to short answers (his feet are cold), we board the chairlift to the summit. And there, as if by magic, it opens (a little).
And precisely, at Stoneham, the skier is completely lethargic. Betrayed, it is said, by his lack of enthusiasm for training, and by the temptations provided by his celebrity, Tomba no longer wins. His last victory dates back to January, 10 months ago, a drought that the small pack of Italian journalists, who follow him everywhere, never fail to remind him of.
For La Bomba, self-proclaimed “the messiah of skiing”, does all this weigh heavily? Yes but no. That morning, he justified himself: “I decided that I wouldn’t just ski for a living. »
But skiing, all the same, he was going to do a lot more… And at the height of his glory in the mid-1990s, he would be richer than ever, a star publicized and adored in his country, spied on by a press which delights in his Ferrari lifestyle.
“I lack words to congratulate myself,” he once said after a victory. As a New York Times journalist described it, the Italian skier is a mix of Muhammad Ali, John McEnroe, Magic Johnson and… Casanova.
And he will always, and above all, have a sense of spectacle. In 1998, when Tomba announced his retirement, he bowed out with a victory in Crans Montana, Switzerland. A 50th in his career. His record places him fourth among men, behind the leader in this regard, the honorable Ingemar Stenmark (86), and further behind the American Mikaela Shiffrin, who will hit the slopes this weekend in Tremblant in search of ‘a 91st victory.
When our chair reaches the top, Alberto Tomba slides nonchalantly towards the start of the training course. A few fans on skis are waiting for him, silent, savoring the moment. Tomba la Bomba is about to slide before their eyes.
Four days later, he won the Stoneham slalom. On the microphone, he thanks the people of Quebec and offers a kiss “to all [his] friends”.
“Order has been restored to the world of alpine skiing,” wrote the Washington Post the next day.
The bear was wide awake, and he had no intention of hibernating.