ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - “Someone had to be fourth,” Tina Maze said after missing out on a medal earlier in the week, but that disappointment turned to joy on Wednesday when she claimed Slovenia’s first Winter Olympics gold medal.
The 30-year-old sped down the sun-drenched Rosa Khutor piste in exactly the same time as Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin to share victory in a cliffhanger of a women’s downhill.
Bitterly disappointed with Monday’s super-combined, where she was a strong favorite, the runaway 2013 World Cup champion was up on early starter Gisin all the way down the 2.7km course but stopped the clock in an identical one minute, 41.57 seconds.
It was the first time at an Olympics that two Alpine skiers had shared a gold medal - and Maze was more than happy to rub shoulders with her Swiss rival on the podium.
“It’s something special,” Maze, already one of Slovenia’s best-known celebrities, told reporters.
“Two winners is even more interesting because it’s not usual. It’s better than someone winning by one hundredth, it’s two happy faces rather than one.”
Maze said she actually thought she had blown her chance of gold after making some tiny mistakes on the final dash to the finish.
Starting 21st and with Gisin’s time looking untouchable, she skied the technical upper section of the course to perfection and seemed to be speeding to outright victory.
“I thought I had lost too much time,” Maze, who held hands with Gisin at the victory ceremony, said.
”I thought ‘ahhhh! this is not perfect for me,’ but then I saw number one on the scoreboard so it was.
“Dominique and I are about the same age, we’ve gone through tough times together and we’ve been close for many years. Now we are even closer than before.”
While it was an Olympic first, Maze shared the top step of a World Cup podium with Nicole Hosp and Andrine Flemmen in Soelden in 2002, her first victory, so she knows all about the wafer-thin margins between winning and losing.
“It’s incredible how small the distances,” said Maze, who has released a pop record and also dabbles as a model.
“We all know that in ski racing one finger or a hand can change the color of a medal.”
After her record-breaking 2012-13 season when she won an incredible 11 World Cup races, Maze, twice a silver-medalist in Vancouver, suffered a hangover this season.
However, after new Swiss coach Mauro Pini told her last year to “ski the way you feel” she has rediscovered her verve just in time for Sochi and will be confident of adding more medals in the giant slalom and super-G.
“It was risky to change coach, but if you don’t risk you get nothing,” she said.
“I wasn’t worried about my skiing, I was confident about the Olympics because I know that it’s another world.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford