Skiers tie for downhill win

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia -- I would have said time was on my side if I had merely reached the media bus just before it pulled away at the start of the nearly two-hour, multivehicle trip up to the mountain venues. But then I watched Switzerland's Dominique Gisin and Slovenia's Tina Maze race in the women's downhill Wednesday.

Starting in eighth position, Gisin twisted and turned and sliced her way down the course in a time of 1:41.57 to take the lead. And then 13 skiers later, Maze left the starting gate and raced down the course and crossed the finish line in . . . 1:41.57.

Yes. They both skied nearly two miles down the face of a mountain in the exact same time, right down to the hundredth of a second. It was the first time in Olympic Alpine history there has been a tie for first place (there have been ties for other medals). After the race ended and the results finalized, Maze and Gisin held hands and jumped on podium together.

"I saw it was going to be close so I looked away and when I looked back I saw the time difference was 0.00,'' Gisin said of watching Maze's race. "And I was like, '0.00. That's OK.'"

OK? That finish was historic, though Maze said sometimes it's even closer. After all, her first World Cup win was a three-way tie for first.

"It's incredible in our sport how small the differences are and we are all aware of that,'' Maze said. "We're all on a high level and skiing well, and at the end, it's just hundredths that count. Maybe it's just one finger or a hand can change the color of a medal.''

She's right about that. Traveling at the speed they do, skiers can travel about 10 inches in a hundredth of a second. That's actually more than I would have expected in such a short amount of time. Which brings up the obvious question:

Should ski results be determined by the thousandth of a second as they can be in speedskating?

"I'd love to see them go to the thousandth! I'd like to get that timer guy and beat him to get the thousandth out of him,'' 1998 U.S. gold medalist Picabo Street said. "I would love to know. Me and everyone else. We would love to know.''

No, not everyone else. Each the recipient of a gold medal because of the tie, Maze and Gisin said they are quite content with stopping at hundredths. So is U.S. skier Stacey Cook.

"A hundredth is so close to begin with,'' Cook said. "Our sport is pretty amazing that you can cover two miles of distance in less than two minutes and still be that close. Ties are not a bad thing in sport. They both did equally as well. They both deserve the gold medal.''

Cook is right. The women's downhill course here is 1.6 miles long and it drops 2,600 vertical feet, averaging a 30 percent pitch, with drops exceeding over 60 percent. And, of course, it's covered in snow and ice. You cover that much distance at that much speed under those conditions, one-hundredth of a second is precise enough.

Right, Picabo?

"If it's gaugeable it, let's gauge it! If it's gaugeable, let me have it,'' Street said. "If you've got it, give it to me! They give it to them in speedskating -- why not here? Because we're going 80 miles an hour and coming 3,000 feet down a mountain? No, gimme that thousandth! I want it!''

Street knows how important a slim margin can be. At the 1998 Games in Nagano, she won the Super G by one-hundredth of a second.

"It comes down to something besides ski racing,'' she said of such a tight race. "One one-hundredth of a second means more to me than whether I was the best skier on the mountain. It has more to do with the type of person I am and how I'm rewarded. By the good Lord. He doesn't bless people who are mean, he doesn't reward people who are scrubs. I honestly think I was blessed with an Olympic gold medal because of the person I am.''

Well, I'm not sure silver medalist Michaela Dorfmesiter would agree she finished second in that race because of some moral failing. But it would make for a darn interesting tiebreaker.

"And now we go to sudden death overtime, where a priest, a rabbi and a minister will walk into a bar and review the athletes' morality. The winner not only gets the gold medal but everlasting life.''

"I wouldn't want to be the silver medalist there, Bob.''

Perhaps Street is right and character does play a part. But I prefer Gisin's view.

"I don't think you can race for hundredths of a second. Hundredths is always luck,'' Gisin said. "But luck comes back once in your life. One time you're on one side, one time you're on the other. Maybe just once you're in the middle, like today.''