Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin yesterday took different paths on an Olympic downhill filled with flats and turns, jumps and bumps, across slender trees’ shadows, along snow that was icy at the top, soft at the bottom.
Any variable could have made the slightest difference over more than 1.5 miles. Gisin, the eighth woman down the Rosa Khutor course, was good enough early and fantastic at the end. Half an hour later, starting 20th, Maze followed a tighter line, faster than Gisin most of the way, until a mistake shortly before the final leap slowed her.
Add it all up, and they were each other’s equal. Exactly, right down to the hundredth of a second. Gisin finished in 1 minute, 41.57 seconds. Maze finished in 1 minute, 41.57 seconds. A tie. And so two gold medals were awarded, the first time that has happened in 78 years of Olympic Alpine skiing.
“Maybe just one finger, maybe just a hand – it can change a colour of a medal,” Maze said.
In a field missing injured defending champion Lindsey Vonn, Gisin’s Swiss team-mate Lara Gut got the bronze, 0.10 seconds behind the tied duo.
During the flower ceremony, Maze and Gisin held hands while they climbed together to the top step of the podium, a scene Maze described as “two happy faces”.
Quite a contrast from Monday’s super-combined, when Maze wore a stern expression after finishing fourth, merely a tenth of a second slower than bronze medallist Julia Mancuso of the United States.
“It’s just that lower of a tuck or that cleaner of a line that makes you that much faster,” said American Laurenne Ross, who finished 11th yesterday.
While other Winter Games sports such as speedskating and luge break down times to the thousandths of a second, Alpine skiing does not – it didn’t even go to hundredths until the 1964 Olympics – and ties happen occasionally. Maze was even in a three-way tie for first in a 2002 giant slalom. And the first of Gisin’s three World Cup victories came via a tie with Swedish star Anja Paerson in January 2009. That was the last time first place was shared in a top-level women’s downhill.
“Hundredths are fine with me,” Gisin said with a hearty chuckle, “and today, the hundredths were on my side.”
According to Peter Huerzeler of Omega, all three timing systems used yesterday had the same results for Maze and Gisin. Huerzeler said the system is capable of measuring thousandths of a second – even millionths, he said – but isn’t calibrated that way for Alpine events, because the International Ski Federation doesn’t want it to be.
It was the fifth tie in Olympic skiing, but the others involved an extra silver or bronze. Most recently, two silvers were awarded for the men’s super-G at the 1998 Nagano Games.
“That’s what’s the beauty of skiing,” Britain’s Chemmy Alcott said after finishing 19th. “There’s not one body type that can win this race. There’s not one line that can win this race. It’s about fighting for every single millisecond.”
On a sunny day, with the temperature approaching 10 degrees Celsius, Maze and Gisin were evenly matched. Their career paths, however, have been wildly divergent.
Maze, 30, added gold to the two Olympic silvers she won in 2010, along with the 2013 overall World Cup title she earned with 11 race victories and a record point total.
She has six world championship medals, including two golds but things have been tougher for her lately. Her first win this season came in her 22nd World Cup race, last month.
“A year of highs and lows. But her objective was the Olympics, and she did it,” said Andrea Vianello, Maze’s ski technician. He previously worked with Gisin and declared: “For me, it’s like winning twice.”
Because she was one of the first skiers, Gisin sat in the leader’s box for what must have seemed like forever, waiting as others got their chance.
Mancuso was eighth. Super-combined silver medallist Nicole Hosp of Austria was ninth. Super-combined champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany was 13th.
Mostly, Gisin waved and smiled for TV cameras. She also cried during a mobile phone call to her grandparents, who used to take her skiing as a kid.
“They did so much for me; my whole family did,” Gisin said. “This is just very nice, to share it with them.”
Gisin, 28, has no world championship medals. She crashed in her only 2010 Olympic race, the downhill, getting a concussion. She’s had nine knee operations, seven on the right one, and thought about leaving the sport each time she reinjured the joint.
“It’s the story of my career. Up, down, forward, backward,” Gisin said. “Every little tiny bit, I (fought) for, and it makes me proud that finally I made it to the top.”