Hannes Reichelt of Austria and Dominik Paris of Italy shared victory with the exact same time on the Stelvio course — usually considered the circuit's most physically demanding — and the top four finishers were separated by a mere two hundredths of a second in one of the closest finishes skiing has ever seen.
"On a hill as tough as this to have a race that close, that's surprising," said overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal, who finished third. "The crazy thing is we were fast in different sections."
Paris took the early lead by clocking 1 minute, 58.62 seconds for his first career win and Reichelt then matched him to give Austria its first speed win of the season.
Svindal finished 0.01 seconds behind — the smallest possible margin — and Klaus Kroell of Austria was fourth, missing out on a podium finish despite being just 0.02 behind the winners.
"It's for sure the tightest race I've ever been in," added Svindal, who sat out training Friday with a sore throat. "Obviously 0.01 is extremely tight and you wonder what you could have done to be faster than the winner, but that's always the case. The race is over. I had a good run and I'll take third place today."
Benjamin Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., was the top Canadian in 15th place.
Jan Hudec of Calgary was 17th, one position ahead of Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Vancouver. Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 24th.
It was the ninth time two men tied for victory on the men's World Cup circuit, but the first time four racers finished within 0.02 of each other — among men or women.
In the super-G at the 1999 world championships in Vail, Colorado, Lasse Kjus and Hermann Maier shared victory, with Hans Knauss 0.01 behind in third. However, the fourth-place finisher in that race, Stephan Eberharter, was 0.22 back.
There was also a downhill in Panorama, British Columbia, in 1992 won by William Besse, with Daniel Mahrer and Guenther Mader sharing second — each 0.01 behind. AJ Kitt was fourth in that race, 0.19 behind.
Among the women, there was a three-way victory in a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria in 2002 between Nicole Hosp, Tina Maze and Andrine Flemmen. But again fourth place was further behind.
For a while, it looked like the race might be remembered as an Italian sweep, with Paris, Werner Hell and Christof Innerhofer sitting 1-2-3 through 13 starters. With Italian great Alberto Tomba on hand, the local fans were going wild.
Reichelt was then faster than Paris at each checkpoint, but he lost time on the bottom section and crossed dead even — prompting the fans to cheer some more.
Svindal then made a slight error near the end of his run — nearly going down on one hip — but battled to regain his balance.
"It definitely wasn't my best turn on the hill, but I didn't crash and I saved a third place," Svindal said.
Svindal turned 30 earlier this week then came down with a sore throat.
"I tried warmup yesterday but it wasn't a good day for me," he said. "I decided if I wanted to have any chance, I needed to rest. I went to bed and read some books and rested up for today."
Svindal matched Michael Walchhofer's record from 2004 of six podiums in speed events before New Year's.
"I'm on a very good roll," Svindal said. "Every day other guys are fast, too, but I'm always right there."
With 674 points, Svindal also extended his overall lead ahead of Marcel Hirscher of Austria (560) and Ted Ligety of the United States — both technical specialists who did not race. He also still leads the downhill standings.
Kroell was the last of the favourites to ski and was 0.20 faster than the leaders at the final checkpoint. But when he crossed the line and saw the results board, he buried his face in his hands.
"Fourth is not bad, but it's not fair to lose by 0.02," Kroell said. "I don't have any joy at all. I'm the (fool) of the day. ... My finish was very bad."
It was the first downhill win of Reichelt's career. He has also won four super-Gs and one giant slalom, and took silver in super-G at the last world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
"I see myself as an all-around racer," Reichelt said. "I can win in three disciplines."
Paris' only previous podium result was a second in a downhill in Chamonix, France, two seasons ago. The Italian moved up to second in the downhill standings, 92 points behind Svindal.
It was the third speed victory for the Italian men's team this season, after Innerhofer won a downhill and Matteo Marsaglia took a super-G in Beaver Creek, Colorado.
"We have a great group and we're always pushing each other," Paris said. "Winning my first race before my home fans is truly something special."
On a splendid day of sunshine, the top American finisher was Travis Ganong in seventh for his best career result.
"When I train I push it to a certain amount and it's smooth and fast and consistent, and I reached that level today," Ganong said.
Always known as one of the most physically demanding course on the circuit, several racers fell as they battled exhaustion on the lower section.
Andrej Sporn of Slovenia was the first to go down, within sight of the finish. He eventually got up and skied down under his own power. Next was Joachim Puchner of Austria, who crashed into the nets but also appeared to escape serious injury.
In all, 11 racers failed to finish.
Ganong battled through fatigue near the end of his run.
"When I went off the San Pietro jump I was (completely) dehydrated — I had no saliva in my mouth — then my legs went numb and I just tried to stick on my line," the Squaw Valley, California, skier said. "But if you really just push two turns, that's the whole bottom part, so I really just saved my energy a little bit and pushed on those last two. I could barely stop when I crossed the finish line, but it was good and I was happy."
The next stop on the circuit is a special city event in Munich on New Year's Day for select athletes. Speed specialists have a break until the classic races in Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria, in mid-January.