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La Bomba offers advice to Bode Miller: 'Don't win too much'

La Bomba offers advice to Bode Miller: ‘Don’t win too much’{mosimage}TORINO, Italy – Asked what advice he’d give outspoken U.S. skier Bode Miller, Alberto Tomba threw his head back and let out a roar of laughter that bounced around the hotel lobby’s marble floor.

”Don’t win too much,” Tomba said during a recent interview with The Associated Press. ”Then they won’t make stuff up about you. Because if you win all the time, they won’t write about your victories,” he said, ”they’ll write about your private life or things you say.”

The man known as La Bomba still is a star in Italy and figures to be in the spotlight during the Feb. 10-26 Torino Olympics – more than seven years after he retired from the slopes.

He’s still burly, still concerned about his image (his manager didn’t want a photographer present during the hourlong chat with the AP because Tomba had been traveling all day), still charming and quick with a joke.

Oh, and still fond of referring to himself in the third person.

Current skiers grew up watching him, some now try to emulate his go-for-broke competitive style, and all would probably love to accomplish just a fraction of what he did.

Italy’s top skier at the moment and best medal hope for Torino, Giorgio Rocca, calls his predecessor a ”legend” and acknowledges: ”There is just one Tomba.”

Someone who would never argue with that assessment: Tomba himself.

After all, this is a man who, after his very first World Cup victory in November 1987, told reporters: ”I am really talented.”

Now 39, Tomba is wary when present-day stars such as Miller or Rocca are compared to him. Of Rocca, Tomba said: ”Remember, Tomba won the Olympics at 20. He’s already 30. I won 35 slaloms, he’s at nine or 10. … There’s more to do if you want to be Alberto’s heir.”

When Italians speak about the upcoming Olympics, it doesn’t take long for Tomba’s name to arise. His exploits on and off the course made him an icon.

Tomba, who said he considered making a comeback about two or three years after retiring, now spends his time making appearances for personal sponsors and as an ambassador for the Torino Olympics.

He helped lobby the International Olympic Committee when the city bid for the Games, and one of his endorsement deals is with a company sponsoring the torch relay. His face beams on billboards around the country, including a giant sign looking out from the ancient Roman amphitheater in Verona.

When Rocca won a fourth straight World Cup slalom this month, Italian TV made as big a deal over Tomba’s reaction to the performance as the race itself.

Tomba won’t be analyzing races during the Olympics: ”I’d rather look an athlete in the eyes and tell him what I think than say things on TV,” he said, adding that he occasionally offers tips to Italian skiers.

He’ll certainly be part of the show next month.

That includes the Opening Ceremony, although Tomba won’t acknowledge that he’ll be the final torchbearer. Nor will anyone from the Torino Organizing Committee; that honor has traditionally been kept under wraps.

Everyone in Italy assumes it’ll be him. ”No one knows. It’s not a given. It’s supposed to be a surprise,” Tomba said, sounding as sincere as possible for someone who was checking text messages on his cell phone while talking.

”I’ll be happy if it’s me. It would be like another Olympic gold. It would be a great memory.”

He certainly provided many for himself and his fans during his career, one that might never have happened if not for a chance friendship his father struck up with a ski instructor. As a boy, Tomba loved cycling, tennis and soccer. But his father persuaded Tomba and his brother to hit the slopes.

Tomba, from near Bologna, usually lost races when he was 10 or 11; he didn’t really blossom until his teens.

And the rest is history: three golds and two silvers at the Winter Games, the first alpine skier with medals at three Olympics, 50 World Cup race victories, an overall World Cup title, two golds and three bronzes at World Championships.

”I always toasted my losses, to forget them,” he said. ”I didn’t toast my victories, because then I would have been drinking all the time.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Tomba pointed out that skiing’s popularity has declined since he left in October 1998, seven months after winning his final race.

”Certain athletes make certain sports more popular,” said Mario Pescante, the government supervisor for the Torino Games. ”I think that’s the case above all with Tomba.”

Or as Davide Milana, a university student in Rome, put it: ”I haven’t followed skiing since Tomba quit.”

Tomba’s words of wisdom for Miller – who, like Tomba, is aggressive on the slopes and outspoken off them – are likely a result of a sometimes rocky relationship with the media. And, like Miller, Tomba protests that he didn’t like all of the attention, all the while seemingly courting it.

He once competed in a race wearing only a pair of tight yellow shorts and a start bib. He posed in his underwear for ads, and he’s got beefcake photos on his Web site these days.

Tomba dated a Miss Italy and was a frequent visitor to late-night discos. There were fines for throwing a trophy at a photographer after a race, and for hitting paparazzi.

”I was introverted, shy,” Tomba said. ”But if you win a lot, you need to be extroverted, or they’ll think you’re arrogant.”

On doping in skiing: ”I don’t think there’s a problem. … But if you want to have races that last 1 1/2 minutes, you need something. Like a cyclist who’s on a bike for six hours, you either eat something that helps you, or you can’t finish. So let’s shorten the ski races. Why do you need to make an athlete spit blood but be allowed to eat only bread? … There’s doping in endurance sports, maybe, but in skiing, I don’t think so. If someone does it, they’re hiding it. I ate pasta.”

On a comeback: ”Two, three years ago, watching races on TV, I was really missing it and thought about it. At the end, I was so stressed out. … Maybe I should have rested for a couple of years and returned to racing.”

On his ill-fated acting career, in one action film: ”They wanted me to be another De Niro. They wrote that it was a flop. … People saw me as a skier, and said I shouldn’t do anything else. That’s ridiculous. If you have other talents inside, and you try to show them, you’re criticized.”

On how skiing has changed since he left: ”It’s more specialized. Either you do technical or speed events. It’s tough to find someone who does it all.”

On who’ll win the alpine skiing medals at the Olympics: ”I don’t see the Swiss or the Norwegians (doing well). Italy, Austria and America will win.”

On Bode Miller: ”We’ll see if he’s in good form for the Olympics. I think he will be. He’s playing around now and will ski more seriously in February.”


Associated Press Writers Eugene Brcic in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and Ariel David in Rome contributed to this report.

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