A-Maze-ing: Tina Maze ties Dominique Gisin to share gold in downhill
Canada's Larisa Yurkiw 20th after odyssey to Sochi
Her country is famous for its expertise in clockwork, but Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin has never experienced timing this precise.
After posting a time of 1:41:57 early on in the women’s downhill, Gisin watched Tina Maze of Slovenia match her time to the hundredth of a second, creating an unprecedented tie for first in the Olympics women’s downhill on Wednesday.
The result marks the first time in Olympics alpine skiing history that two skiers have shared first place.
Underdogs always seem to surprise at Olympic alpine events, and that tradition continued at Rosa Khutor in Sochi. Gisin’s last victory on the World Cup circuit came over five years ago, although the 28-year-old served notice of her desire to win here by posting the fastest time in the third training run last Saturday.
She led three Swiss skiers into the top 5 and became the fifth woman from her country to finish first in the women's Olympic downhill. The last was Michela Figini, who did it as a 17-year-old in 1984.
Gisin experienced an emotional roller-coaster while she watched at the bottom as 32 other racers tried to beat her time, but she said it was well worth the wait.
“It means the world. It was a constant struggle, and I had to fight for every little bit, but I kept fighting to the end.”
The kind of win that makes up for a poor season
For Maze, last year’s World Cup overall champion, the result was less surprising, but still made history.
The 30-year-old becomes Slovenia's first ever Winter Olympics gold medallist in any sport. The country now has 11 medals in Winter Games competition through the years, including Maze's silvers in super-G and giant slalom four years ago in Vancouver.
After a record-setting 2012-2013 season that saw her win 11 World Cup races, including the World Championships, Maze hasn’t looked the same on the slopes this year, and she admitted that she was still trying to find her form coming into the downhill.
“I was struggling every day down here, and I made the same mistake today, but I said ‘Just let it go’, you know, it’s hard to lose speed on this slope, and I managed to bring it down today. It was enough, but it was close.”
She also credited her fellow Slovenian Olympians for giving her a little extra jump for the race.
"It's great energy, and the team, great sports people. I knew I had a chance here, and they gave me more motivation."
Gisin’s compatriot Lara Gut finished one-tenth of a second back at 1:41:67 to grab the bronze and push Switzerland’s medal total to 4. Gut, who has five World Cup wins this season, briefly held second place before Maze eclipsed her time three skiers later.
Canadian’s road to Sochi an inspiring one
Canadian Larisa Yurkiw finished 20th. The Owen Sound, Ont., native crossed in a time of 1:43.46.
While she was happy to complete the long journey to Sochi, Yurkiw had expected more of herself in her Olympic debut.
“It is a little disappointing. I really believed in today, more than most races this season. It’s nerve-wracking to know you can do it, you know?”
She added that the course conditions tested the limits of her abilities today.
“It’s the Olympic downhill. It has to suit you. It was a little rugged in places, but I also didn’t handle myself as well as I’d hoped in most places. You definitely had to have a bit of hair on your chest for today.”
The last tie in Olympic skiing happened in men's super-G at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Didier Cuche of Switzerland and Hans Knauss of Austria both got silver behind winner Hermann Maier.
Twice, two women have tied for second place in Olympic giant slalom races.
At the 1992 Albertville Olympics, Diann Roffe of the United States and Anita Wachter of Austria both took silver behind Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden. At the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics, Christine Goitschel of France and Jean Saubert of the United States were second to gold medalist Marielle Goitschel of France.
Several expected contenders did not factor in Wednesday's result.
Julia Mancuso of the United States was eighth, while Maria-Hoefl Riesch of Germany and Elisabeth Goergl finished out of the top 10.
Mancuso and Goergl rounded out the podium at the 2010 Vancouver Games behind Lindsey Vonn, who didn’t recover from knee surgery in time to compete in Sochi.
Hoefl-Riesch was looking to become just the third skier to win four Olympic gold medals in her career, but she'll have two more chances over the next 10 days.
Pair of contenders off course
A total of seven skiers failed to cross the finish line on Wednesday, including Anna Fenniger, who was on pace to beat Gisin and Maze’s time before she caught an edge and skiied off course.
The biggest crashes of the day belonged to France's Marie Marchand-Avrier, who went hard into the protective netting but skied off under her own power, and Alexandra Coletti of Monaco, who was not so lucky, and had to be airlifted off the mountain.
Swiss veteran Fabienne Suter was first out of the gate to start the day, and her time held up as the best until Gisin’s run seven skiers later.
Suter ultimately finished fifth, one spot behind Daniela Merighetti, the Italian who complained about the dangerous nature of the course after a mishap on the first day of Sochi downhill training last week.
The next women's alpine event, the super-G, is scheduled for this Saturday.
-- With files from The Associated Press