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Was It Really A Tie In Women’s Alpine Olympic Event? (No.) But No One Is Telling

February 13, 2014

James and I have been spending a lot of time watching and following the 2014 Winter Olympics.  I am dazzled by the ski jumps, and totally thrilled with the figure skating.  My stomach even spins a bit as I watch the luge.  I love it all!

But last night I could hardly believe it when watching the women’s downhill skiing event that led to a tie for the gold medal.  This morning, as is so often the case with almost any topic, the morning paper filled in the missing parts to the larger story.

There really was not a tie, someone did win but no is telling. 

When Tina Maze of Slovenia, a favorite in the event, descended the racecourse in the late morning, she was chasing the little-known early leader, Dominique Gisin of Switzerland. As Maze crossed the finish line, a giant scoreboard over her shoulder pronounced her time as 1 minute 41.57 seconds. It then flashed a No. 1 next to Maze’s name — and a No. 1 next to Gisin’s name.

The racers had identical times.

Or did they?        

In a glass-enclosed timing booth perched at the top of the grandstand next to the finish, the times for Maze and Gisin were measured and recorded to the 10,000th of a second: four digits to the right of the decimal point, not just two. As Daniel Baumat, vice president of Swiss Timing, the company that administers the timed results for the Olympic Games and many other sports, said late Wednesday: “There is a more precise number, to the 10,000th. But the rule is to report to the hundredths. We follow the rule.”

F.I.S., the international governing body of ski racing, which also oversees the Olympic ski racing competition, considers timing to the hundredths of a second to be a worldwide standard, as it is for most sports, but not all of them.

When asked why F.I.S. would not use the more comprehensive or complete number that was available to break the tie, Jenny Wiedeke, the organization’s communications manager, said: “When you start getting into such small numbers you cannot guarantee the integrity of that number. It’s an outdoor sport in a winter climate; a piece of flesh could be the difference.”

Maze and Gisin were awarded gold medals.

Still, in the timing control booth, three people — the head timer, a backup timer and a computer operator — saw who won the race according to the timing data. Baumat said he did not look. 

“We don’t care,” he said. “The rule is hundredths. We said, ‘OK, it’s a tie.’ ”

Baumat said that no one, including F.I.S., is informed of the actual winner.

“That is forbidden,” he said.

But when asked if the times recorded to the 10-thousandths of a second were the most precise and accurate times for how long it took Maze and Gisin to ski the roughly 2,800-yard downhill course Wednesday, Baumat answered, “Yes, of course.”

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