Alberto Tomba longed for this one, and it was a long time coming.

Tomba, the three-time Olympic champion from Italy, won his first World Cup giant slalom in nearly three years Thursday, giving him three victories in three days and five this season.The 28-year-old Tomba had the fastest times in both runs to beat Urs Kaelin of Switzerland by 0.45 seconds down the steep Gran Risa track at Alta Badia in the Italian Dolomite mountains. Christian Mayer of Austria was third, 0.61 seconds behind Tomba.

It was Tomba's 38th career victory, and he is off to his best start since the 1987-88 season, during which he won nine races and two gold medals at the Calgary Olympics.

"I had been expecting this day for a long time," Tomba said. "I really wanted to win this giant slalom, in this place. The latest victory is always the most exciting, but I can't say today's was better than yesterday's. I love them all."

Tomba already had won four slaloms this season, two at Lech Am Arlberg Tuesday and Wednesday.

Counting consecutive slalom wins to end last season, Tomba now has won a record of six slaloms in a row, beating the men's World Cup record of five done three times by Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark and matched once by Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg.

The triumph, before a partisan crowd of 5,000 who played trumpets and shouted "Alberto you are the greatest," widened Tomba's overall lead in the World Cup standings. He now has 550 points, 248 more than defending World Cup champion Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway (302).

Aamodt, who will require knee surgery at the end of the season, finished fourth, 1.23 seconds slower than Tomba.

Swiss Michael Von Gruenigen, sidelined with a dislocated left shoulder after a fall in Wednesday's slalom, was third in the overall World Cup standings with 294 points.

Tomba, whose last giant slalom victory was at Crans Montana on March 20, 1992, celebrated in the typical "La Bomba" style. He somersaulted at the finish line, threw kisses to his fans and knelt on the snow to kiss his dog, Yukon.

He then cavorted around the finish area, pulled by Yukon, a gift from his sister, Alessia.

"I am not crying, I've got some snow on my face after the somersault," said Tomba, who looked moved following the long-sought victory.

Tomba and Kaelin were tied in first place after the first run, in 1:09.17.

On the second run, however, Tomba finished in 1:08.18 for a winning combined time of 2:17.35. Kaelin, who nearly fell at mid-course and touched the snow with his glove before recovering his balance, had a second run of 1:08.63 for a combined time of 2:17.80.

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"Tomba is almost perfect this season and you must ski two faultless runs to beat him. I made a mistake, and I finished behind," Kaelin said.

Tomba said he knew from the opening giant slalom in Tignes that a victory in this discipline was in range. In the French resort he rallied from 21st after one run to fourth, clocking the fastest time in the second run.

Blaming sharp pains from a badly bruised rib, he did not start in the second run of the Val d'Isere giant slalom after finishing ninth in the first run.

Tomba said he took anti-inflammatory medication prior to Thursday's race. He had to resort to pain-killer injections in Lech. He badly bruised his fourth rib during warmup for the Sestriere slalom that he eventually won on Dec. 12.

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