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WILL TOMBA POSTPONE RETIREMENT?

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Now, Alberto Tomba might be tempted to postpone his retirement.

The flamboyant Italian, who was expected to retire after this season, has been sensational. This week, he won three World Cup races in three days and he has five victories in six races this season.Tomba's aides now are hoping that the 28-year-old Tomba, a three-time Olympic champion, will give up his retirement plans in the wake of his best start since his golden 1987-88 season.

That season, he won two Olympic titles and nine World Cup races.

It is possible that Tomba might win the overall World Cup title - a rarity for a skier who does not compete in speed races. He leads the World Cup overall standings by a wide margin, with 550 points, compared to 302 for runner-up Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway.

Retired Swedish star Ingemar Stenmark is the only slalom specialist to have won the overall title - three straight times, from 1976-78. Stenmark set World Cup records with 46 giant slalom and 40 slalom wins.

Tomba has 38 career wins - 12 in giant slaloms and 26 in slaloms.

"A final decision about Alberto's future will be taken at the end of this season," said Paolo Comellini, Tomba's manager and the architect of rich commercial contracts for Italy's most popular and wealthiest skier.

Tomba's sponsors include the giant food group Barilla, the sportswear company Fila and the Rossignol ski maker.

Tomba's best contracts reportedly run through 1997, when the World Alpine Championships will be held at Sestriere, Italy. If Tomba retires before then, he could lose millions of dollars.

"Alberto is in a state of grace this season," Comellini said. "He proved he's the best slalom skier . . . It would be a pity to stop this winning machine."

Tomba's latest victory was Thursday in a giant slalom. It was his first win in this speciality in nearly three years.

"Alberto is in great form, skiing faultlessly," Aamodt, the defending World Cup champion, said. "It looks like Tomba's year."

Gustavo Thoeni, a former ski great who is Tomba's coach, is surprised by his pupil's strong start this season.

"He trained hard in the summer, but he's skiing much better than foreseeable," said Thoeni, who often has had problems in controlling Tomba's exuberant way of life and his aversion to early morning training runs on glaciers.

Tomba admits that he's sometimes lazy in testing new equipment and in waking up.

"Certainly I like the decision of organizers to stage some races under the lights, because I can stay in bed longer in the morning," Tomba said.

He won the first ever World Cup slalom at night at Sestriere this month.

Thoeni said Tomba has shown a more professional attitude with age.

Tomba made several tests of giant slalom equipment during the summer and was seen inspecting the giant slalom course at Alta Badia at 2 a.m., two hours before the start of the first run.

Some friends of Tomba have said that he became more tranquil and focused on races after restoring his relationship with former Miss Italy Martina Colombari and after overcoming bitterness for a much publicized incident with police, which cost him a fine earlier this year.

However, Tomba still likes to mix drama and theater in his performances and to celebrate in style at the finish line.

At Sestriere, he won the slalom although bothered by a badly bruised rib, that he injured during warmups.

The following week, he refused to start in the second run of a giant slalom at Val D'Isere, blaming recurrent rib pain.

But shortly afterward, he won consecutive slaloms at Lech Am Arlberg, Austria, and the giant slalom at Alta Badia.

At Lech, he barely escaped a spill, nearly stopped and made an acrobatic move to clear a gate, then recovered to beat Austrian Thomas Sykora by .02 seconds.

He dived into the fresh snow to celebrate, then quipped, "I could have stopped (on the track) to have a cup of coffee."