LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The question used to be how can the Americans beat the Germans in luge?
Now the Germans might ask the same about Team USA.
Chris Mazdzer earned his first-ever luge world cup win in a two-heat race (he won the one-heat sprint world cup in Calgary last year), with Tucker West right behind him in second place.
It was the first time the U.S. men have gone one-two in a luge world cup.
“It feels awesome to do it on my home track,” said two-time Olympian Mazdzer as the crowd cheered.
The win, combined with his eighth place in the Igls World Cup last week, gave 27-year-old Mazdzer the overall world cup lead.
“They handed me the world cup leader bib!” he said shyly showing the bib. “I’m the world cup leader! I saw on TV, I have (Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl) by two points.”
“I’m the world cup leader,” he said again, in disbelief. “First time in my career.”
Mazdzer’s two-run time was 1:42.808, with West in 1:42.841. Kindl rounded out the podium in 1:42.848.
Mazdzer was in second place after the first run, behind two-time Olympic gold medalist Felix Loch from Germany. After his second run, Mazdzer figured that he and West would be on the podium, but each a step lower. Loch, who has won everything there is to win in luge, spent a week in November training on the Lake Placid track. The win seemed like a sure bet.
Then Loch hit the track wall coming into the Lake Placid track’s infamous chicane on his second run.
“When he hit that wall, he hit it really hard, so I knew that he lost enough time for me to win instantly,” Mazdzer said. “You never want to see people do that. But I’ll tell you, on home track, you want the win so bad.”
This is the second year in a row that a U.S. man has won the Lake Placid World Cup. West, 20, won last year and set the track record.
“(I had) a few hiccups on the run, but overall I couldn’t have asked for a better day,” said West, who grew up sliding on a homemade luge track in his backyard in Connecticut. “I’m super excited where we ended up. Two Americans on the podium, that’s huge for America.”
He also had a mix of sympathy for Loch and joy over the U.S. result.
“I don’t like to see anyone screw up,” said West. “It’s tough to see that, it was shocking. He’s a machine. He never screws up. So for that to happen is huge for us. I know he doesn’t like this track very much, so I’m going to guess he’s not liking it anymore right now. We got lucky with that one.”
But two podium finishes took far more than luck. USA Luge has been building toward this result for years.
“We’ve got a really good pipeline, and our men’s pipeline, we could see it coming,” said Gordy Sheer, USA Luge’s director of marketing and sponsorship, and an Olympic silver medalist himself. “These guys have both been working very hard and improving. It’s good to see the fruits of their hard work.”
Earlier in the day, the young doubles team of Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk — in only their second world cup together — finished sixth (up from 17th last weekend in Igls, Austria) and just ahead of team veterans Jayson Terdiman and Matt Mortensen, who struggled with equipment problems.
First run, the strap that holds Mortensen to the sled broke at the start. They held on for seventh place.
Sherk, 23, credited Mortensen and Terdiman with pushing them to excel, while 19-year-old Krewson gave credit to the whole team.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without our teammates, the team camaraderie,” Krewson said. “We all get along. We joke around, keep everybody relaxed.”
Mazdzer echoed Krewson’s statement.
“We’re always in Europe, we’re traveling with each other year-round, we train together in the summer, we travel with each other in the winter, we even go on vacation with each other in the spring,” explained Mazdzer. “We are a very close team.”
This closeness extends to the track, where they help each other figure out tracks’ lines and how to fix mistakes.
“Because of that, we’re always building the entire team up,” he explained. “Where other nations are constantly fighting against each other, the United States, we’re one solid group.”
After spending Thanksgiving in Igls, Austria — where the team played their own Turkey Bowl with a football allegedly swiped from the Austrians — the American sliders are racing on North American tracks in three consecutive world cups: in Lake Placid, Park City, Utah, and Calgary, Alberta. It’s the first time in anyone’s memory that the U.S. has enjoyed home continent advantage for more than two world cups.
“It leaves me excited but nervous,” said West, who acknowledged that he can hear the crowd cheering as he flies down the track.
“I started off well here with a second place,” West added. “So hopefully we can continue improving on that going into Park City and Calgary.”
Racing continues tomorrow with women’s luge in the morning, and the team event in the afternoon. Mazdzer and Krewson and Sherk will compete on the U.S. team, along with whichever U.S. woman — Erin Hamlin, Emily Sweeney or Summer Britcher — has the fastest run tomorrow morning.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.