Gisin and Maze - first tied Olympic gold medals
KRASNAYA POLYANA - Tina MAZE (SLO) and Dominique GISIN (SUI) won the first double Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing in an extraordinary morning in the ladies downhill at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
After 2.713km of racing, the pair finished tied on 1 minute and 41.57 seconds to each claim gold. GISIN's highly fancied teammate Lara GUT (SUI) was just 0.10 seconds away from making it a three-way golden glow, taking bronze in 1:41.67.
While MAZE, Slovenia's first Olympic Winter Games gold medallist and now the NOC's most successful Olympic athlete with three medals, has been touted as a potential downhill champion, GISIN was not expected to figure in the dash for the podium.
The last of the Swiss skier's two downhill world cup victories came in 2009 and her best finish before the Games was a seventh in the downhill at Val d'Isere. The 28-year-old, who is a qualified pilot with the Swiss airforce, did finish fastest in the third downhill training on Saturday but she was under no illusions about her prospects.
"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," GISIN said. "For the last two years I didn't manage to get out of my comfort zone but to start here I had no choice but to leave that zone."
Under clear skies and racing in bib No 8, GISIN swept down a course bathed in sun and shadow. After cold overnight temperatures and significant treatment, the hard-packed icy nature of the downhill threw off six skiers, including Anna FENNINGER (AUT), who skied out near the top.
Twelve skiers failed to match GISIN's time before MAZE attacked the course with a precision that has been missing from her skiing for most of this season. The Slovenian led by a fraction on the first intermediate split and gradually increased her advantage all the way down. By the fourth split, MAZE was 0.38 seconds up and headed for gold. A small mistake on the final rise just metres before the finish cost the 30-year-old time but not a lifetime of regret.
"I have no words. This doesn't feel real," said MAZE. "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."
In a wonderful day for Slovenia, MAZE's gold means the Sochi 2014 Games are already the most successful in the NOC's history, with four gold medals to date. MAZE added the gold to the two silver medals she claimed in the giant slalom and super G at Vancouver 2010, overtaking Judoka Urska ZOLNIR (SLO) as Slovenia's most successful winter or summer Olympic Games athlete.
There will be as much dancing in Bern as in Ljubljama after the Swiss won their first ladies downhill gold medal for 30 years and in the process matched alpine rivals Austria as the most successful NOC in the event. Both now have five golds.
For GISIN it was the ultimate payback after the anguish of failing to finish in the downhill at Vancouver 2010.
"Four years ago I cried as well but in a different way," said the gold medallist.
For GUT the tears were never far away, either, despite finishing in the bronze medal position. The 22-year-old has won three super G and one downhill world cup races this season and was second fastest in the downhill run of the super combined on Monday. The Swiss skier knew this race offered her a golden chance.
"I'm disappointed because as an athlete you always want to do your best and I know this was not my best performance," she said. "I'm going to sleep tonight not have a party."
For the other pre-race favourites, it was a morning to forget. Maria HOEFL-RIESCH (GER) had a similarly error-ridden run to her downhill in the super combined and despite a strong lower section, the three-time Olympic gold medallist could finish only 13th.
Julia MANCUSO (USA) also was unable to match her super combined form when she had been fastest in the downhill segment. The 29-year-old struggled in the middle section of the course, fading to eighth.