Chris Mazdzer may have won an Olympic silver medal in luge last February. But the 30-year-old slider had not been near the FIL World Cup podium in two years.
On a warm December day in Lake Placid, he came close on his home track. During a season marked by inconsistency, Mazdzer finished fourth, just 0.04 of a second shy of third place. It’s his best result in two years. He also finished fourth in the 2016 Lake Placid World Cup. His last podium finish happened in February 2016.
“I’m totally happy with how I performed today,” Mazdzer said before rushing off to compete in doubles. “I left nothing out on the track, so I couldn't have done any better, and it’s good knowing that.”
“But it’s so close,” he added. “Fourth place at home! I have now two fourth places at home, and it’s the worst feeling ever. But it’s also really good.”
Russia’s Roman Repilov won the men’s race in 1:43.048 followed by 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Johannes Ludwig from Germany in second place (1:43.219) and Reinhard Egger from Austria in third (1:43.275). Mazdzer’s time was 1:43.315.
World Cup leader Wolfgang Kindl from Austria was disqualified for having an overweight sled.
American sliders Tucker West and Jonny Gustafson finished tenth and 17th, respectively. This is the first time in five years that West has not won a medal at the Lake Placid World Cup. The 23-year-old, who’s famous for his backyard luge track at home in Connecticut, has struggled with consistency this season.
Mazdzer’s singles results have also been all over the place this season. He finished 17th in the first world cup, then jumped to sixth on the Whistler track. In Calgary last weekend, he was seventh after the first run, but then had a bad second run and fell to 24th. Fourth place in Lake Placid felt like a victory.
“We’re creeping, we’re creeping forward, so it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s good to have this momentum. I’m really pumped going into the second half [of the world cup season], and I’m really excited for doubles.”
Forty-five minutes after the men’s race concluded, Mazdzer teamed with Jayson Terdiman for doubles. After struggling in training runs earlier this week, the duo laid down two clean runs and finished sixth.
Olympic bronze medalists Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken from Germany — fondly known as “Eggs Benedict” — won doubles in 1:27.492, over three-tenths ahead of the two Tobiases, two-time Olympic gold medalists Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt (1:27. 812), also from Germany. The current world cup leaders Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller from Austria rounded out the podium in third (1:28.032).
Mazdzer and Terdiman were 0.936 of a second from the win. But their second run was just over one-tenth of a second off the podium finishers.
“Our second run was awesome,” said Mazdzer. “Steu and Koller, they’ve won world cups, they had a really good run. And we’re only a tenth behind. We’ve got a little bit to make up on our start, but that’s just going to take a little bit of time. So I’m happy.”
“We were having major mistakes all week,” added Terdiman. “Today we had very, very clean runs. The second one I’m super proud of. So it’s a mental victory today.”
The American duo has been on an upward slide since they first slid together in October. In the first world cup, they finished 10th. A week later, they were seventh, and last weekend they climbed to fifth.
They are the only American doubles team on the world cup roster this year after a spate of retirements. But this is not their first rodeo, so to speak.
A decade ago, Mazdzer and Terdiman competed in doubles as juniors, winning a junior world championship bronze medal in 2007 and a silver in 2008. On the junior world cup, they claimed six silver medals and finished second overall in 2008.
Back then, USA Luge was ripe with doubles teams. With little hope of qualifying in doubles for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Mazdzer switched to singles. Over the next eight years, he scored 10 world cup podium finishes in singles and four wins. Last February, in his third Olympic Winter Games, he won the silver medal.
But he has always considered himself a better doubles slider. And this summer, when two-time Olympian Jayson Terdiman was without a doubles partner after Matt Mortensen retired, Mazdzer stepped up to the sled. Terdiman thought the Olympic silver medalist was joking.
Mazdzer was serious, and he thought that he and Terdiman could make the top five this year.
Mission accomplished at the Calgary World Cup in mid-December. The next day, the duo helped Team USA win a silver medal in the team relay.
“I do want to say I did see this coming,” said Mazdzer on the eve of the Lake Placid World Cup. “I took myself very seriously while others might not have.”
Mazdzer is the only slider competing in both singles and doubles luge — a difficult task given that the starts, lines, and speeds are different. But he and Terdiman are confident that they will succeed.
“We’re still learning,” said Terdiman, who pointed out that the duo has only had 65 runs together this season, about a third the number their competitors have taken. “We’re in the top six, anyone who’s in the top six can find their way to the podium. It’s just going to take a little bit of that extra luck for us. But again, four weeks into a season, 10 years off for this guy, it’s incredible, and I’m riding high.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.