KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – As Switzerland's Dominique Gisin stood at the bottom of the women's downhill run in Sochi, watching Slovenia's Tina Maze whoosh in to snatch her gold medal, she couldn't bear the agony. She turned her head and looked away.
That's how she missed witnessing Olympic history.
Gisin listened to the crowd explode into a roar, assumed she had been overtaken, and looked back at the clock to survey the damage. But the digital readout dividing the runs of Gisin and Maze was seemingly dead. As others stood stunned and unblinking, Gisin started to cry when the digits sunk in: 0.00. Either it was a malfunction, or Gisin and Maze had just accomplished an Alpine first in the Olympic Games, registering identical downhill times and locking into a tie for a gold medal.
[Related: Double-gold is the first in Alpine history]
"Incredible," Gisin would say.
"No words," Maze would concur.
In a racing discipline that divides medals by hundredths of a second – the equivalent of a lightning strike – Gisin and Maze had both miraculously crossed the finish line in 1:41:57. The identical times were so unlikely, Gisin suggested it was purely good fortune. You train, you practice, you study, you focus … and sometimes the universe just gives you the tiniest fraction of time.
"I don't think you can race for hundredths," Gisin said. "A hundredth is always luck. But luck comes back once in your life. One time you're on one side, one time you're on the other. And maybe once, you're in the middle. Like today."
But as implausible as Wednesday's events seemed, Gisin and Maze just shrugged. They were amazed, but it's not like it was the first time this has happened to them.
"It's happened to [Gisin], and I know how it feels, too," Maze said.
That's right. In odds that seem beyond astronomical, both skiers have had gold-medal ties in World Cup races. Keep in mind, this is a sport where a multitude of factors small and large can separate race times: climate, equipment, starting order, fitness, experience, course variation and an infinite number of choices made by racers.
Races that, as Maze put it, "Maybe just one finger, maybe just one hand, can change the color of a medal."
Yet, both have had high-level gold-medal ties in the past. Gisin did it in her first World Cup race – a 2009 draw with Sweden's Anja Paerson in a downhill event in Altenmarkt, Austria. That also happened to be the last time there was a gold-medal tie in a major downhill event.
Not to be outdone, Maze once had a three-way tie in a World Cup event in 2002 in Soelden, Austria. In what would be the World Cup's first three-way tie in history, Maze put up a 1:41:91 in a two-run giant slalom, along with Austria's Nicole Hosp and Norway's Andrine Flemmen.
For it to happen again?
"That's ok with me," Gisin said. "…I think we're both happy. I know I'm happy."
Gisin didn't hide that joy Wednesday once she knew she was going to win a medal. Someone handed her a cell phone on the bottom of the run, and when she heard the voice of her grandparents, she couldn't stop crying. Who could blame her. A week ago, it wasn't even certain she'd ski in the downhill.
With the Swiss team still solidifying its downhill entries on Saturday, Gisin won her spot on the team by outracing teammate Nadja Jnglin-Kamer in a training run. Jnglin-Kamer crashed, so Gisin got the spot. She said that experience actually put her at ease going into the downhill. Having to compete just to get in, what else did she have to lose?
"It actually improved my emotions and eased the tension, because I had to win the qualification just to get into the downhill," Gisin said. "It pushed me out of a comfort zone that I had been in for a long time."
Now she's pushed her way into the record books with her first Olympic medal, first gold and a tie that will likely stand alone for a long time. There have been four other ties in Alpine events at the Olympics, but none were gold: men's downhill bronze in 1948; women's giant slalom silver in 1964; women's giant slalom silver in 1992; men's super-G silver in 1998.
Maze entered Wednesday as one of the event favorites, currently sitting at No. 2 overall in the 2013 World Cup downhill standings. But she had lacked Olympic success in the event, winning silver in the super-G and slalom in the 2010 Vancouver Games. She's expected to do well in both of those events in Sochi and add to a Slovenian medal count that has already climbed to four despite being a country of only 2 million.
"This doesn't feel real," Maze said. "I will have to see my team to get myself together and realize how much this means to us."
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