USA Luge will have a new head coach for the Olympic season, after Miro Zayonc stepped down, citing the continuing onset of Parkinson's disease.
The 56-year-old Zayonc has helped oversee a never-before-seen run of U.S. luge success, as well as preparations for next year's Olympics. The team has won 29 World Cup medals in the last two seasons alone under Zayonc, along with three medals at this past season's world championships and Erin Hamlin's bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Games.
And now, less than a year from the Pyeongchang Games, Zayonc's health will not allow him to continue in his current role.
"Miro will remain active in our organization," USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said. "From our technical initiatives to training programs, working with our current coaching staff and developing our elite athlete concepts, Miro will be a key contributor in the years ahead. In the luge world, he's recognized for his high degree of understanding of the sport and its athletes. We're fortunate to have his services."
Zayonc will be replaced for the coming season by Bill Tavares, who is being promoted to the interim role from his spot as an assistant. Zayonc will remain with USA Luge as senior adviser to Leahy, plus will do some additional work alongside sport program director Mark Grimmette.
Athletes have braced themselves for some time that this move by Zayonc would be inevitable, especially given the demands of the job.
"Miro has always been my coach," USA Luge men's veteran Chris Mazdzer said. "He was my first coach when I was 13 and I had him every year except one or two. They talk about his five years on the senior team, but he's been my coach for my entire career. He's always been there. His legacy is that he was such a strong competitor as an athlete and that kind of transitioned to him as a coach."
Tavares was a luge Olympian for the U.S., plus was head coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. women's bobsled team at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. He has been on USA Luge's coaching staff since 2010 and in the top role since 2012.
Zayonc has been part of seven USA Luge Olympic coaching staffs. The native of the former Czechoslovakia escaped to Canada in the early 1980s, won a world championship for Canada in 1983 -- on the track at Lake Placid -- and eventually became a U.S. citizen and a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. He competed at the Calgary Olympics with Tim Nardiello, finishing 11th in doubles despite racing with a broken foot.
"He doesn't really talk openly a lot," Mazdzer said. "He's the man of few words, but could always get things done. He was extremely driven for this sport."