KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Squaw Valley's Julia Mancuso couldn't find her inner speed demon Wednesday, but the women's downhill still yielded one of the most historic days in Olympic alpine skiing.
While Mancuso and the rest of the U.S. skiers failed to defend the title won four years ago by Lindsey Vonn, the most prestigious women's race produced a golden moment with a tie.
Slovenian Tina Maze bombed the steep course on a crystal blue day to match Switzerland's Dominique Gisin -- the first time an Olympic alpine race ended in a tie for the gold medal.
"You see ties in speedskating where they are going the exact same distance," Mammoth Lakes' Stacey Cook said. "We're going over 2 miles in under 2 minutes, and then there was the different lines that those two took."
In other words, what were the odds of them finishing with identical times of 1 minute 41.57 seconds?
Alpine medal ties have occurred only four other times but never for a gold medal.
Gisin, a pilot with the Swiss air force, failed to finish the downhill four years ago when Vonn won and Mancuso took second. Gisin's best finish on the World Cup this season was seventh.
"In the end, the hundredths were on my side today," she said. "Hundredths is always luck, but luck always comes back to you in life. One time you're on one side, one time you're on the other side."
It sounded like Gisin was discussing Mancuso's experience in Sochi halfway through her fourth Olympics.
After winning a bronze medal in the downhill-slalom combined race Monday, the Tahoe skier was considered a favorite Wednesday. It was supposed to be her stage after skiing in Vonn's shadow most of her life.
But Mancuso, 29, got too much air on a jump midway through the course that has sections called Devil's Spin and Bolshoi Traverse. She couldn't adjust enough after that and finished in eighth place, almost a second slower than the winners.
Lara Gut of Switzerland won the bronze medal, 0.10 seconds behind at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.
Mancuso lost focus after the jump and then did something she knows she should never do: think while racing.
"I'm more of an instinct skier," Mancuso said. "Thinking too much takes me out of my game and I forget what to do with my body." Simply put, "I wasn't in my best state of mind or body. I feel like I want to hit the reset button."
Mancuso can start with the super-G on Saturday, her third of four events. She is trying to win her fifth medal to match Bode Miller as America's most decorated Olympic skier.
Picabo Street, one of the United States' most famous Olympians, said Mancuso and the rest of the Americans need to recalibrate their mindset.
"It was a matter of being ballsy or not," Street said of the downhill. "It was a matter of dropping the hammer and running at this course or letting it come at you. Tina Maze didn't let it come at her, and she continued to attack it."
Street, an Olympic gold medalist working for Fox Sports, intimated that Mancuso relaxed in the downhill because of winning a medal in the super combined.
With Vonn sidelined while recovering from a knee injury, U.S. speed skiers had struggled this season in World Cup racing.
But they began showing form just weeks before the Sochi Games, fueling hopes of something special Wednesday.
Instead, Laurenne Ross of Bend, Ore., was 11th and Cook 17th.
For Cook, who grew up in Truckee before moving to Mammoth as a teenager, it could not have been more disappointing. The three-time Olympian wasn't sure what happened.
"Maybe after missing that gate in the super combined," she said of her struggle Monday, "I was holding on a little too much."
Cook, 29, added that missing a prerace training run that was canceled Tuesday because of poor conditions took away the chance to "go out there and completely trust it again."
Mancuso wasn't the only big name to fizzle instead of sizzle in the downhill. Co-favorite Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany was 13th after starting the day having won three gold medals in six Olympic races.
But it was a historic day for Maze, 30, and her tiny country. She became the first Slovenian woman to win three Olympic medals -- she earned two silvers in Vancouver in 2010.
"I have no words," said Maze (pronounced Maze-EH). "This doesn't feel real."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
The man to beat might be Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko (shown), who won the men's portion of team skate. Also in the field are Canada's Patrick Chan, the three-time defending World Champion. (Also shown delayed Thursday on NBC, 8-11:30 p.m.)
Men's hockey Team Canada vs. Norway USA Network, 9 a.m. Thursday (live)
Canada, with star Sidney Crosby (shown) and two Sharks (Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic), is the defending Olympics champion and takes the ice for the first time in Sochi. Canada is expected to dominate Group B (Finland, Norway, Austria).
INSIDE: Roundup, results, standings. PAGE 4 Purdy: Pressure on Ovechkin, Russians. PAGE 5 ONLINE: Live results, stories and photos at www.mercurynews.com/olympics.