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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Tomba out of slalom

     SHIGA KOGEN, Japan (AP) -- Alberto Tomba, bothered by a groin injury from his fall two days earlier in the giant slalom, dropped out of the slalom Friday after a slow first run in what almost certainly was his final Olympic ski race.
     Tomba, seeking to become the first alpine skier to win a medal in four consecutive Winter Games, finished 17th in the first run -- almost two seconds behind leader Thomas Sykora of Austria. Tomba shook his head in dismay after crossing the finish line.
     Robert Brunner, an Italian ski team official, said Tomba would not compete in the second run because of the groin injury. Tomba left the ski area for his hotel and did not speak with reporters.
     "He is very sorry to have to make this decision," Brunner said. "He wanted to finish his fourth Olympics with a medal.
     "But considering the physical situation, and the current placing, he realized he could not win a medal."
     Tomba tumbled off the course on the first run of the giant slalom two days earlier, falling hard on his back.
     "He was still troubled by back pain and he has a light groin strain from the spill he took," Brunner said. "His physical condition is not good."
     Tomba was the 1988 Olympic champion in the slalom and won silver medals in slalom at the 1992 and 1994 Games. He also has two gold medals in the giant slalom.
     But he never has skied well in Japan. At the 1993 world championships in Morioka, Japan, he slid off the course on the first leg of the slalom and missed the giant slalom because of food poisoning.
     Sykora, skiing through thick fog and stinging sleet, had the fastest time in a first run that included a moderate earthquake. The ground shook for about two seconds, rattling a temporary press room near the finish area.