What Happens When Olympians Tie for a Medal?

On Wednesday, two Olympic Alpine skiers — friends — tied for gold in the women's downhill competition. Here's how it happened. 

This article is from the archive of our partner .

On Wednesday, two Olympic Alpine skiers — friends — tied for gold in the women's downhill competition. The tie is the first for gold in Alpine Olympic history, but hardly the first for the Games overall. Here's how it happened.

In order to tie, Tina Maze of Slovenia and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland had to navigate a 1.67-mile course in exactly the same time, down to a hundredth of a second, and they did: they both completed the course in 41.57 seconds. As the New York Times explains, Olympic officials actually measure out to four decimal places for each race, or to the 10,000th of a second, meaning that it's possible one gold medal winner did actually finish with a slightly faster recorded time. But the widely accepted standard for scoring for international events is to the hundredth, which officials stuck with here. It's even against the rules to reveal those two extra decimal places.

Based on the Olympians' reactions, however, both seem quite happy to keep things at a tie. Speaking to reporters after the event, Maze said:

“It’s a great feeling because Dominique and I are pretty good friends. We have the same mentality. It’s good to see her winning gold, too. I am very happy for her.”

Gisin agreed with Maze that she didn't want to see her time past the regulation hundredth of a second, adding:

"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."

The third place winner, Lara Gut of Switzerland, came in just one-tenth of a second behind Maze and Gisin — in general, a tie for gold means that a silver medal is not awarded. It's the fifth tie for a medal in the history of Olympic Alpine competition, and the first for a gold. Here were the others, via Olympic Stats:

  • 1948:  Men's Downhill, Swiss pair Karl Molitor and Ralph Olinger tie for third
  • 1964:  Women's Giant Slalom, Christine Goitschel of France and Jean Saubert of the United States tie for second
  • 1992:  Women's Giant Slalom, Diann Roffe of the United States and Anita Wachter of Austria tie for second
  • 1998:  Men's Super G, Switzerland'sDidier Cuche and Austrian Hans Knauss tie for second

And, this is the seventh time in the history of the Winter Games that two different individuals or teams have tied for gold medals for the same event, but the first in more than a decade:

  • 1928:  Men's Speedskating (500 meters), Bernt Evensen of Norway and Clas Thunberg of Finland. 
  • 1956:  Men's Speedskating (1500 meters), Yevgeny Grishin and Yuri Mikhaylov
    of the Soviet Union 
  • 1960:  Men's Speedskating (1500 meters), Roald Edgar Aas of Norway and Yevgeny Grishin of he Soviet Union (yes, Grishin tied twice for gold) 
  • 1972    Men's Luge (doubles), Horst Hörnlein and Reinhard Bredow of East Germany, and Paul Hildgartner and Walter Plaikner of Italy
  • 1998    Men's Bobsledding (two-man), Günther Huber and Antonio Tartaglia of Italy, and Pierre Lueders and David MacEachern of Canada
  • 2002   Men's Cross-Country Skiing (pursuit), Frode Estil and Thomas Alsgaard of Norway 

There is one more instance of a double gold, but it's not really a "tie," strictly speaking: In 2002, Canadian pairs figure skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier were awarded a gold medal — the second for the same event — after being narrowly beaten in the scoring by Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. Following immediate allegations of cheating — particularly that French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne may have scored favorably for the Russians as part of a deal to award gold to a French pair of ice dancers — the ISU upgraded the Canadian pair's silver medal to gold. The scandal led to a revamp of the scoring system for figure skating.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.