By Alan Baldwin, Feb 12 2014
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Switzerland's Dominique Gisin and Slovenia's Tina Maze tied for women's downhill gold on Wednesday in a thrilling first for Olympic Alpine skiing.
After a strength-sapping run of 2,713 meters over jumps and bumps down the gleaming Rosa Khutor slope, each swept across the finish line with exactly the same time of one minute, 41.57 seconds.
Timings to one thousandth of a second would surely have separated the two, but even then the difference would have amounted to little more than a pinch of snow on the mountainside.
"It's even more interesting (to tie for gold), it's an unusual thing, it's something special," said Maze, Slovenia's first Winter Games gold medalist.
"It's better to be two on top than one to be 1/100th behind. Two happy faces."
Switzerland's Lara Gut took the bronze medal after finishing just a tenth of a second slower on a course designed by compatriot and 1972 men's winner Bernhard Russi.
"I made everything to achieve that great race today, but it's crazy," said Gisin, who talked tearfully to her grandparents on her mobile phone as others came down, lost in amazement.
"We were crying. It was very emotional. They did so much for me, my whole family did," added the 28-year-old, who has endured her share of injuries over the years including nine knee operations.
Alpine skiers have shared medals before at the Olympics, but never for gold - although there have been numerous cases of joint wins on the World Cup circuit.
At the Innsbruck Games in 1964, France's Christine Goitschel and American Jean Saubert shared giant slalom silver, while in 1992 American Dian Roffe and Austrian Anita Wachter tied for second place in the same discipline.
On the men's side, Switzerland's Didier Cuche and Austrian Hans Knauss tied for Super-G silver in 1998.
Maze - redeeming a relatively poor season after setting records and taking the overall World Cup title last year - had started 21st and looked set for gold all the way down until the final stretch.
The 2010 Olympic super-G silver medalist was 0.02 ahead at the first split time, stretching her advantage to 0.09, 0.13 and 0.38 before crossing the line with the clock showing 0.00.
Gisin - who was eighth out of the start hut on a beautifully sunny morning - had already averted her gaze by then, sure that the Swiss timing system was about to give victory to her rival instead.
"I looked away, and then I looked up. And then I was like 'zero? zero means we're good!," laughed Gisin, who shared her first World Cup downhill win in 2009 in a dead heat with Sweden's Anja Paerson.
Maze was not about to be troubled by 'what ifs' either. She too thought she had blown it as she crossed the line.
"I was just happy to see number one. The rest was not important," said the Slovenian, who works with former Swiss women's coach Mauro Pini. "I thought I lost too much time up there and it couldn't be enough."
There was disappointment for Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the favorite who was bidding to equal Croatian Janica Kostelic's women's record of four Olympic gold medals but finished only 13th.
"It just wasn't my day unfortunately. Monday cost me a lot of energy," said the German, who won the super-combined on Monday. "Of course it's a big disappointment...I tried everything but it just didn't work out."
The race was without two women who would have been vying for favoritism little more than a month ago, with 2010 champion Lindsey Vonn absent from Sochi through injury and Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather withdrawing on Tuesday.
World champion Marion Rolland of France was also ruled out with a long-term knee injury last year.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and Julian Linden)