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Ortlieb takes downhill gold by a whisker

© Getty Images
The men’s downhill produced the closest finish in the history of Olympic Alpine racing. A mere tenth of a second separated first from third, equivalent to just three metres in distance – less than a couple of skis put together.

And it wasn't just the top three who were close: Germany's Markus Wasmeier was fourth, missing out on a medal despite finishing just a quarter of a second behind the winner.

Ahead of the Games there had been plenty of speculation as to who would prevail in the downhill. The Val d'Isère course was steep and demanding and appeared to suit French favourite Franck Piccard.

© Getty Images

However, the early pace was set by Austria's Patrick Ortlieb, who could have raced for France if he'd wished. Ortlieb was a talented skier but had never won a top-level international race and had been fiercely critical of the course. Still, he produced a smooth and swift run and his time of 1 minute 50.37 seconds looked strong. Just how good, though, was not immediately obvious.

Ortlieb’s Austrian team-mate Günther Mader maintained his own challenge for gold until the very last moment, but crossed the line 0.1 seconds slower. Meanwhile, the much-fancied Franz Heiner of Switzerland, was a second further off the pace, leaving just one man Piccard, who went off 23rd, to challenge Ortlieb’s place at the top of the leaderboard.

© Getty Images

Throughout his run, Piccard kept pace with Ortlieb, and it all came down to the final burst for the line. When the time flashed up on the board it showed that Piccard had missed out on victory by 0.05 seconds, the tiniest of fractions. It meant that Ortlieb's first major victory had come on the greatest of all.

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