Maze and Gisin tie for gold in women’s downhill final at Sochi

History made as Olympic skiing event ends in first ever dead heat

A tie is not uncommon in most sports. Without it there would be no overtime, no

sudden death. But a tie for the gold medal in an Alpine Olympic event had never occurred before yesterday’s women’s downhill at the Sochi Games.

When Tina Maze of Slovenia, a favourite in the event, descended the course in the late morning here, she was chasing the little-known early leader, Dominique Gisin of Switzerland. As Maze crossed the finish line, a giant scoreboard over her shoulder pronounced her time as 1 minute 41.57 seconds. It then flashed a No 1 next to Maze’s name - and a No 1 next to Gisin’s name.

The racers had identical times. Or did they? In a glass-enclosed timing booth at the top of the grandstand next to the finish, the times for Maze and Gisin were measured and recorded to the 10,000th of a second: four digits to the right of the decimal point, not just two. As Daniel Baumat, vice president of Swiss Timing, the company that administers the timed results for the Olympic Games and many other sports, said: “There is a more precise number, to the 10,000th. But the rule is to report to the hundredths. We follow the rule.”

When asked why FIS, the international governing body of ski racing, which also oversees the Olympic ski racing competition, would not use the more comprehensive number available to break the tie, Jenny Wiedeke, the organisation’s communications manager, said: “When you start getting into such small numbers you cannot guarantee the integrity of that number. It’s an outdoor sport in a winter climate; a piece of flesh could be the difference.”

Timing control booth
Still, in the timing control booth, three people – the head timer, a backup timer and a computer operator – saw who won the race according to the timing data. Baumat said he did not look.

“No one, including FIS, was informed of the actual winner. That is forbidden,” he said.

In speedskating events, according to their bylaws, if there is a photo-finish system available showing time resolution into the thousandths of a second, the recorded times from that are used.

But Wiedeke said: “That’s an extremely controlled environment – indoors, no wind, no weather. Who knows what 20 years will bring, but for now hundredths is a perfectly accepted standard worldwide.”

Although there has never been a tie for a gold medal in an Olympic Alpine event, there have been ties for other medals, most recently at the 1998 Nagano Games when Didier Cuche and Hans Knauss tied for silver in the men’s super-G.

There were also ties for silver in the 1992 and 1964 women’s giant slalom, and for bronze in the 1948 men’s downhill.

Lara Gut of Switzerland won the bronze medal, 10-hundredths of a second behind the leaders.

Neither Gisin nor Maze was upset by the dead heat, with Gisin philosophical: “Sometimes you’re behind the hundredths on the scoreboard, sometimes you’re ahead of the hundredths and sometimes you’re in the middle,” Gisin said. “I’m OK in the middle.”

While Maze and Gisin were convivial about the result – they held hands as they simultaneously ascended the top step of a podium for a flower ceremony at the race finish (medal ceremonies are in the evening) – it was an exceedingly important outcome for both of the racers.

Struggled through
Slovenia had never won a Winter Olympics gold medal, and Maze, the defending overall World Cup champion, has struggled through an uneven season and was edged out for a bronze medal by American Julie Mancuso on Monday in the super combined.

Four years ago, at the Vancouver Olympics, Gisin crashed 100 yards from the downhill finish, flipping and tumbling across the snow like a rag doll until she lay on her back semi-conscious from a concussion.

Gisin, who has had nine knee operations, said: “It’s the story of my career. Up, down, front, back – it’s not always easy but I come back, and that makes me proud.” –
New York Times