KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The women's downhill in Sochi ended in the first Alpine gold-medal tie in the 90-year history of the Winter Olympics.
Defying the laws of probability, Slovenia's Tina Maze and Switzerland's Dominique Gisin posted duplicate times of 1:41:57, giving them the first ever dual gold medals awarded on the basis of an Alpine timed event. It's an occurrence that has long been accepted as virtually impossible in downhill skiing, where a seemingly endless array of factors separate race times by hundredths of a second. From variations in the course, to conditions that change minute-by-minute, to hundreds of choices made by racers, posting identical times in the same downhill race is tougher than hitting the lottery.
The Olympics do not have a runoff in the event of a tie. In the case of a tie, both competitors are deemed the best in the world at that moment. Switzerland's Lara Gut won the bronze with a time of 1:41.67.
"I think the tie is not that bad, it is even more interesting," Maze said. "It is better to have two on the podium, two happy faces."
Maze and Gisin pulled off the amazing feat, despite skiing 13 spots apart in the order. Gisin hit the course eighth, with a considerably cleaner surface. Maze pushed off 21st in the pecking order (although one skier did not start ahead of her) and faced a softer, more carved up line down the mountain. Perhaps most remarkable about their runs, Maze reached the fourth split with a .38 edge over Gisin. But the base of the course had warmed and slowed considerably by her run, wiping out Maze's advantage. In effect, Mother Nature intervened and made impossible happen.
"It's really crazy," American Julia Mancuso said. "I'm really happy for both those girls. It's an amazing show."
There have been four other ties in Alpine events at the Olympics, but never for the gold: men's downhill bronze in 1948; women's giant slalom silver in 1964; women's giant slalom silver in 1992; and men's super-G silver in 1998.
Mancuso, who won bronze in the super combined after posting the fastest downhill time in that event, finished in eighth at 1:42.56. U.S. teammates Laurenne Ross and Stacey Cook finished 11th and 17th, respectively.
"I am disappointed with my skiing, I made some big mistakes," Mancuso said. "I would like to have another chance, but it's over. I have to move on to my next event."
Maze and Gisin, meanwhile, both left happy with the outcome of their historical race.
"Dominique and I are very close; I know she was struggling this season," Maze said. "Now we are even closer than we were before."