There was high drama in the women’s downhill as Swiss outsider Dominique Gisin and Slovenia’s Tina Maze each clocked 1 minute 41.57 seconds for a dead heat at the top of the leaderboard, meaning that an Alpine skiing gold medal was shared for the first time in Winter Olympics history.
Gisin, wearing bib number eight, was first to clock 1 minute 41.57 seconds down the icy 2.7km-long course and in brilliant sunshine it looked to have been enough for outright victory.
But Gisin, who has not won a World Cup downhill race since 2009 and whose best finish in the downhill this season is seventh, had not counted on Maze, the 2013 super-G world champion and one of Alpine’s true big-stage performers.
Starting 13 runners after Gisin on a course that had not broken up, the Slovenian led all the splits but lost a little time after the final jump to come charging through the finish line in a dead heat.
Going into Sochi 2014, Maze had endured a relatively poor season by her own standards, recording her first downhill win in Cortina d’Ampezzo in January.
However, she had already hinted she might produce something big in the speed event, when she finished third place finish in the downhill run of the super-combined several days earlier.
Living the dream
“I’m extremely happy and completely overwhelmed,” said a tearful Gisin, who ended a 20-year downhill drought for Swiss women that stretched back to the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo.
“This is incredible. I am overwhelmed with emotions,” added the 28-year-old.
“I am so happy – what a day. I don’t think I even dreamt about this. Now that I have won, I am living the dream, but this is better than dreaming.
30-year-old Maze, who was up on Gisin’s time at all four intermediate splits, but then slowed fractionally in the final section was equally ecstatic, as the two mounted the podium hand-in hand.
“I have been dreaming about this since I was little. The first ski race I ever won in my life was a downhill so before I went down the track today I said to myself, ‘This has to be it. I can do it’, and I just went for it.”
One onlooker who was particularly delighted by the unique shared gold was Maze’s coach Mauro Pini, who was previously the head coach of the women’s Swiss ski team.
“Tina is a hard worker so this is nice for her,” said Pini. “I’m also happy for Dominique as she was my first athlete.”
With Maze and Gisin sharing gold, it meant that there was no silver medal awarded.
More Swiss delight
There was more joy for the Swiss team when Lara Gut, who has so far this season won three super-G and one downhill World Cup race and finished second in the combined’s downhill, claimed bronze, a further 0.10 seconds off the lead.
Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the winner of super-combined earlier in the week and started as pre-race favourite, could only finish 13th at 1.17 seconds, while the silver medallist from that event, Nicole Hosp was ninth, at 1.05 seconds.
Another of the favourites, the USA’s Julia Mancuso, who had snatched bronze in the combined thanks to a fastest downhill run and won silver in the discipline in Vancouver four years ago, finished eighth at 0.99 seconds.
“I am disappointed with my skiing, I made some big mistakes,» said Mancuso. «I would like to have another chance, but it’s over. I have to move on to my next event.
«It’s tough and really difficult to stay focused on the whole run, but that’s what separates the champions from the rest of us on race day.”