If the Olympic racing clock measured time in milliseconds, the women’s downhill race at the Sochi Olympics almost certainly would have ended decisively. But the clocks don’t measure anything finer than a hundredth of a second and that meant the race, to the total bewilderment of the audience, produced two winners.
For the first time in the history of Olympic alpine skiing, two athletes stood on the top step of the podium and shared gold. Tina Maze of Slovenia and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland held hands during the wreath ceremony, each, apparently, not quite believing that one of them had now been relegated to the silver position.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Maze said.
Lara Gut, also of Switzerland, took bronze. In alpine races, no silver is awarded when there is a double winner.
Both Maze and Gisin skied near flawless races under the blazing sun at the Olympic alpine centre. Gisin timed in at 1:41:47 and was all smiles. About half an hour later, Maze blasted across the finish line with – what? – the same time. In sheer joy, she tossed her goggles into the air and then kneeled down to kiss the snow, as if the thank the snow gods (no complaints about course, by the way, in spite of the warm temperatures).
Larisa Yurkiw, the lone Canadian in the race, finished a disappointing 20th – identical to her world cup ranking. Julia Mancuso, the star of the American ski team in the absence of Lindsey Vonn and winner of bronze in the super combined, came eighth.
Gisin’s near flawless run was a surprise because she is not a big medal winner and almost did not make the Swiss Olympic team cut. Maze has had a mediocre season even though she is the reigning overall world cup champion.
She is the first Slovenian to win an Olympic winter games gold and praised her little country’s stellar performance at Sochi. By Wednesday, it had picked up four medals, including her gold.
Shared medals are rare but not unprecedented in alpine events. The Olympics have produced three double silver medalists and, in a small number of cases, double golds have been awarded in the world championships. “It’s crazy but it’s happened to me before,” Maze said. “In my first world cup, there were three of us on [top of] the podium.
Yurkiw was not happy at all. “I’m really disappointed in my performance today,” she said. “I made too many mistakes. I don’t think I was tactful when I needed to be…I was going for the medal, man, that was my clear goal.”
Still, the mere presence of Yurkiw in Sochi is a minor miracle. In 2009, the Owen Sound, Ont. native won silver in the 2008 FIS Junior World Ski Championships. A year later, she destroyed her knee and missed two skiing seasons.
A year ago, she was kicked off the Canadian Olympic team. Shortly thereafter, she founded Team Larisa Racing – party of one – to keep herself in the game. With coach Kurt Mayr at her side, she raised $150,000 from sponsors, some of it from the Ukrainian community in Ontario (her father Dennis was born in Ukraine).
She was taken back on the Canadian team just before the Olympics and set her sights high, though she appears to have underestimated the formidable competition in Sochi.
Dennis Yurkiw and his wife Lynda were in Sochi to cheer on their daughter. The family has been funding her campaign and remains overwhelmed by the generosity of Yurkiw’s private supporters. On the flight from Toronto to New York just before the overseas flight to Russia, a Canadian passenger in the next row learned that Dennis was the skier’s father. “The woman gave us a hundred dollars to help support her,” he said. “These are the things that really inspire her.”