KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — In the women's Olympic downhill, what was the difference between finishing in a tie and finishing 0.01 seconds back after a 12/3-mile-long course on which the skiers reached speeds of almost 65 miles an hour?
Ten and a half inches.
"It could be just a finger," said Slovenian speedster Tina Maze. "Or a hand."
Or it could be nothing at all, which is what the clock said it was between the run of Maze and an earlier run by Dominique Gisin of Switzerland.
And that was history — the first time an Olympic alpine ski race had ended in a dead heat for the gold medal — or gold medals, in this case.
When Maze, who started 21st, attacked the early part of the course with abandon, it looked like she might overtake Gisin, who started eighth, as the leader. But when she crossed the finish line, there were two 1s on the board, with identical times of 1 minute, 41.57 seconds.
"She was ahead of me (on the early splits)," Gisin said. "I knew it was going to be close. When I saw it was a tie, I thought, 'That's OK with me.' "
And that's the way it ended, gold medals for Maze and Gisin, with Switzerland's Lara Gut taking the bronze medal, 0.10 seconds back.
This was the fifth medal tie overall in Olympic alpine skiing. There have been three ties for second, including the USA's Diann Roffe Steinrotter tying Anita Wachter of Austria for the silver medal in the giant slalom in 1992. The others were the 1998 men's super-G (Didier Cuche and Hans Knauss) and the 1964 women's giant slalom (the USA's Jean Saubert and France's Christine Goitschel). And, in the 1948 men's downhill, two Swiss skiers tied for the bronze medal.
Ski races are timed to hundredths of a second, and the previous closest race for gold in Olympic history had been Picabo Street's winning run in the 1998 super-G — 0.01 seconds faster than Austrian Michaela Dorfmeister.
Street, now an analyst for Fox Sports, watched Wednesday's race at the bottom of the hill and afterward joked about finding a timing official to find who won to the thousandth of a second.
"I am so curious to know," she said. "I want to get that person and beat it out of them. 'Tell me, I know she did it!' I had my money on Maze coming up here."
Asked if they would like to see the timing extended to thousandths of a second, both winners said hundredths was just fine with them.
"Keeping it to hundredths is OK,' Gisin said. "A hundredth is always luck. But luck comes back on your side. Maybe once it is on your side and maybe another time on the other side, and one time you're in the middle, like today. I'm happy with that."
Gisin, 28, knows about bad luck. She crashed spectacularly off the finish jump in the Vancouver Olympic downhill and crashed again at last year's world championships. She has had nine knee surgeries.
Wednesday, indeed, her luck turned. "Four years ago I cried as well," she said, "but in a different way."
There's a statistically incredible coincidence related to the tie by Maze and Gisin. Both of their first World Cup victories came in dead heats.
Maze, 30, won her first World Cup race in 2002 – in a three-way tie in a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.
And Gisin's first World Cup win — a 2009 downhill in Altenmarkt, Austria — ended in a flat-booted tie between Gisin and Anja Paerson, with U.S. star Lindsey Vonn just 0.17 back.
Vonn, of course, had no chance to get into the fray here as she is still recovering from knee surgery. So she couldn't defend her 2010 Olympic title. In 2018 in South Korea, there could be two women defending their Olympic downhill titles.
If Wednesday's race was historic, the USA's Julia Mancuso didn't get to be a part of it.
She was seeking to tie Bode Miller atop the all-time Olympic medal chart for U.S. skiers with a fifth career medal, but she couldn't find the magic that had carried her to a bronze medal in the super-combined two days earlier.
Mancuso, 29, of Squaw Valley, Calif., started 12th and finished eighth, 0.99 seconds behind the winners.
"It's really crazy," Mancuso said of the tie. "I'm really happy for both girls. It's an amazing show."
Mancuso, who won the downhill portion of the super-combined, was considered a co-favorite with Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch.
But Mancuso was relatively slow — and
uncharacteristically passive — in the middle of the course.
"I am disappointed with my skiing," Mancuso said. "I made some big mistakes. I would like to have another chance, but it's over. I have to move on to my next event.
"(The course) is tough and really difficult to stay focused on the whole run, but that's what separates the champions from the rest of us on race day."
Mancuso just couldn't get comfortable after being surprised by the big air she got off the first jump.
"I'm a lot more of an instinct skier," she said. "I think I just thought too much today. I didn't let go and let my body kind of do its thing.
"I caught a lot of air after the first jump. It made me a little nervous, and I started thinking too much. I had a plan to try to avoid the bumps but it was the wrong plan.
"I definitely was thinking of attacking. But after I caught all that air, it kind of made me back off a little. I knew speeds were higher and I knew it would feel faster. Instead of trying to go faster, I was kind of waiting. That was definitely my downfall."
Mancuso's search for a fifth medal will have to wait until Saturday's women's super-G.