Winter Olympics 2014: Why did we have a gold medal tie in downhill skiing?

Pascal Le Segretain

There was a tie in women's downhill skiing on Wednesday. Why were two golds awarded?

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Early Wednesday, Switzerland's Dominique Gisin sat at the bottom of the women's downhill course, holding onto first place with a time of 1:41.57. She watched opponent after opponent attempt and fail to match her time, until Slovenia's Tina Maze bolted down the hill.

Maze had an edge over Gisin midway through the course, but by the time she crossed the finish line, that edge evaporated. Incredibly, Maze finished over the line in 1:41.57, the exact same time as Gisin. 19 racers followed Maze, and none of them could top the dual leaders, leaving us with a tie for the gold medal. No silver medal was awarded as a result, and Switzerland's Lara Gut won bronze, finished .10 seconds behind Gisin and Maze.

Yep, dual gold. It's the first time it's ever happened in a timed event at the Winter Olympics, which have been taking place since 1924. Pretty incredible.

But why did it happen? Instead of a tie, couldn't they have just broken the time down further to thousandths of a second to determine a true winner? Here's the explanation, via Bill Mallon at OlympStats:

At Alpine skiing downhill speeds 1/100th of a second is about 10 inches or 25 cm, and 1/1000th would be about 1 inch or 2.5 cm. How accurate is the finish line? If Maze finished on the left side of the finish, and Gisin on the right side, is that accurate enough to measure to 1/1000th, especially when the start line is 3,000 metres away? So if you measure to 1/1000th would you be penalizing one skier for finishing on one side of the course and not the other, without them really knowing which side is shorter? You could be.

Makes sense. It's better to crown dual champions than to dictate a result that's well within a margin of error. Besides, after a race like Gisin and Maze ran Wednesday, they both deserved gold anyway.

h/t Business Insider

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