Two downhill skiers tie for an Olympic gold medal, but did one actually win?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Timing is everything, don't you know? But timing at the Winter Olympics, well, it's weird. This week two skiers in the women downhill race clocked the same exact fastest time: 1 minute 41.57 seconds. Officials called it a tie and the two skiers both got gold medals, a first at the Winter Olympics. That might not have happened if the two athletes had been speeding down the luge track. That competition is measured down to the thousandths of a second. Turns out each sports federation determines the timing rules.

Peter Huerzeler: We have to time, what the rule is, and what the federation is asking for.

Werman: That's Peter Huerzeler with Omega Timing. The Swiss watchmaker has been the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932 and things were a little different back then.

Huerzeler: In the beginning at the very start in '32, it was in seconds.

Werman: From timing down to the second back in 1932 to what now?

Huerzeler: We can go to one millionths of a second if you want.

Werman: Why not do that for downhill skiing? Well the International Ski Federation says it's worried about the integrity of the time when it gets down to such small numbers. The FIS has no plans to change the rules, but I'm still thinking a lot can happen in just a hundredth of a second. Huerzeler breaks it down in terms of the distance a speeding downhill skier could cover with that tiny amount of time.

Huerzeler: One hundredth of a second is a distance of 26 centimeters.

Werman: Somebody was in fact ahead, right? Is that what you're saying.

Huerzeler: Maybe, I don't know.

Werman: You'd think a man who's been the chief timekeeper at 16 Olympics would be bothered by such lack of precision, but Omega's Peter Huerzeler thinks there's nothing wrong with sticking to the rules as they are.

Huerzeler: If they are precise, the same time, each one merits a gold medal or a silver medal. That's correct.