OLYMPICS: Maze Takes Gold in Downhill
Sochi, 12 February - Slovenian skier Tina Maze won gold in Wednesday's Olympic downhill in Sochi, sharing first place with Dominique Gisin of Switzerland (both finished in 1:41.57). Bronze went to another Swiss skier, Lara Gut (+0.10). This is the first ever Winter Olympic gold for Slovenia.
The success for Maze, who won two silvers at the Vancouver Olympics four years ago, comes after a frustrating fourth place in Monday's super-combined event and a lacklustre season by Maze's standards, after she won last year's overall World Cup with ease.
Maze tweeted "I'm Olympic champion! It can't get any better than this!". After the race, she said that she "believed in this, since I got here. I came to win the gold medal. Not silver or bronze, but gold - and I did it."
"After all I went through this year, this is something unbelievable. I remembered the first ever race in my childhood before this downhill...I thought about it the whole night. I won that time and I told myself that I can also do it today," Maze said.
"Downhill is my best discipline at the moment, something I could not have imagined two years ago. I pulled off a top performance, with a mistake, though, but good enough for victory," Maze said, greeting the fans home.
Entering the race with bib 21, the Slovenian champion started vigorously down the course, opening a lead ahead of Gisin in the upper part, which she increased further in the middle section to raise Slovenia's hopes for a medal.
The 30-year-old led by 0.38 seconds at the penultimate intermediate time, an advantage that she lost by the finish line, but the scoreboard showed a tie, which meant Tina and Gisin have became the first athletes ever to share Winter Olympics gold.
"Me and Dominique are the same age and we have the same things on our minds...She is very intelligent, and overthinks things sometimes, just like me....She also had big problems this year and I'm happy for her, because I understand what she had to do to get [the gold]," said Maze.
Gisin said after the downhill race that it was a great honour for her to share the first place with Maze, for whom she had great respect.
"Tina has now won everything that could be won," said Andrea Massi, head of Maze's team and her life companion who has contributed greatly to her success. "I've always believed a Slovenian girl who trains hard can win a downhill. The victory is amazing."
"This success sums up 12 years of my life with Tina. This medal contains everything, the good and the bad. Everything we went through in the past years, all the attacks....But we stayed focused. The team was created for Tina and is the best in the world," said Massi.
He has already set his sights on the upcoming races, considering that Maze as an all-rounder also has medal hopes in the super-G and giant slalom races, which are scheduled for Saturday and next Tuesday.
"There are also the super-G, the giant slalom as well as the slalom. Tina now needs to believe that she can also achieve a lot in slalom and we'll be training on this hill until she believes she's good," Massi said about his goals.
He moreover praised coach Mauro Pini, who joined the team only in January. An important role was also played by ski expert Andre Vianello, with Maze saying that he was the best in the world.
Meanwhile, first congratulations have showered in via Twitter, with President Borut Pahor hailing the champion as an inspiration to the nation in his congratulatory cable.
"You inspire us with your sincerity...I am deeply grateful to you and your team for not stopping to believe in yourself. This is an important message to all of us. The path is not over until your reach the end," Pahor said.
Pahor decorated Maze with the Golden Order of Services last year for her contribution to promoting Slovenia globally.
The government, the parliamentary speaker and Sport Minister Jernej Pikalo sent their congratulations via Twitter with Pikalo extending his "heartfelt congratulations" to Maze, saying her achievement was a historic dream come true.
This is already the fourth medal for Slovenia in Sochi and the fifteenth in Winter Olympics, but the first ever Winter Olympic gold.
Ilka Štuhec, another Slovenian competing in the downhill race, finished tenth, 1.08 seconds behind the winners. Meanwhile, Maruša Ferk was 18th, 1.67 seconds adrift.