Albanian takes the slow road

By Alan Baldwin

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Albanian ski instructor Erjon Tola will never teach a masterclass in Olympic slalom but his performance on Saturday was a lesson in persistence.

The 23-year-old Italian resident picked himself up after a big mistake to complete his first run in an epic one minute 33.94 seconds -- almost double the 47.79 of leader Giuliano Razzoli of Italy.

He was slower than Ghana's debutant 'Snow Leopard' Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong who padded down the hill with a rock steady 1:09.08.

Tola, who coaches tourists in the resort of Breuil-Cervinia and is Albania's sole skier at the Games, was still 54th of the 101 starters after a first run with 43 non-finishers and four disqualifications in the atrocious conditions.

"The first part was very fast but very easy to make mistakes. That's what I did. I did a very bad mistake and I was out," he added.

Tola missed a gate so halted his run, sidestepped back to the gate and then continued to complete his opening descent, punching the air after crossing the line.

"But I was watching the course and I said 'No I want to finish it'. That's why I came back and finished because this is the Olympics," he continued.

"The time doesn't matter. It is enough that you arrive to represent your country. Of course also the people that don't finish are in the classification, but this is the Olympic spirit."

Tola competed in giant slalom at the Turin Games four years ago, finishing 35th. In the same discipline in Vancouver, he came 63rd.

"I am the only one (from Albania) and compared to Torino it is much more beautiful and the course easier," he said. "In Torino it was very icy."

(Editing by Miles Evans)