Chris Mazdzer (R) and Summer Britcher react during the luge team relay at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 15, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Like a sled picking up speed at the bottom of a track, Team USA is gaining momentum in the wildest and woolliest luge event, the team relay.
After placing sixth in the inaugural Olympic event four years ago, Team USA placed fourth Thursday night at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“Good trend,” said Chris Mazdzer, who took silver in men’s singles for the lone Team USA luge medal. “Let’s go, let’s just fast forward (to Beijing 2022). Come on! We want the race tomorrow. I don’t even know what that track looks like, but we can do it.”
Germany won its second straight Olympic gold medal in the event, setting a track record of 2 minutes, 24.517 seconds at Alpensia’s Olympic Sliding Centre. Canada was second in 2:24.872, followed by Austria at 2:24.988.
Team USA, which came into the race as the 2017 world championships silver medalist, was fourth, clocking 2:25.091.
Summer Britcher raced the first leg, followed by Mazdzer and then the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman anchored for Team USA to edge Italy by two-thousandths of a second.
While Mazdzer said it would “be the worst” to lose a medal by .002, falling short by about a tenth of a second is tough, too.
“A tenth is so close after almost three miles of racing,” said Mazdzer.
Team USA went 10th among the 13 teams as some intrepid family and friends in the finish area demonstrated their team spirit in the freezing air by going shirtless or wearing only red, white and blue sports bras.
Britcher, who set the women’s track record in women’s singles with a time of 46.132, slid into trouble at the tricky 9-10-11-12 curves and finished with a time of 47.266.
As she crossed the finish line, she hit the timing pad, which released the gate at the top for Mazdzer to start. He had the fastest reaction time of any of the men or doubles teams, with his time of 48.660 ranking second among the men.
Team USA trailed Italy when Mortensen and Terdiman took over, but they came in at 49.165, fifth among doubles, to briefly give Team USA the lead.
“Their bottom was awesome,” Mazdzer said. “In training you guys have been the biggest ‘bottom-gainers.’ Even though there’s a couple hundredths, we knew you guys could get it.”
He said seeing the clock change from red to green, which meant Team USA had pulled ahead, “is such a cool feeling.”
Mortensen said the relay is stressful because the pad is particularly close to the finish curve. “At most other tracks, the track’s a couple more meters out,” he said, “so you have time to kind of collect your senses after exiting a curve. Here you have to do almost the two simultaneously, exit and sit up and hit the pad. It’s very difficult.”
Then Team USA had to wait and see if the time would stand up for a medal through the next three teams.
“I felt pretty ood about it,” Mazdzer said. “The thing about this track is there’s a lot of variability – people are messing up.”
But first Canada, and then Austria and Germany, took their turns moving to the top of the standings.
“Everyone on their team just had awesome runs,” Mazdzer said. “That’s something that’s really hard to beat. We were close. We were so close.”
Britcher felt like her run cost her team and was crying in the finish area. “I’m a little bit upset with it and I feel really bad for my teammates,” she said, “but that’s racing. And mistakes happen and sometimes you’ve got to risk it to try to go for that finish that you want. And sometimes you just don’t get it.”
Her teammates rushed to her defense.
“We’re all proud of her,” said Terdiman, as the other men nodded. “(Team luge) is the greatest, in my opinion. Because we’re a very individualized sport and to get to come together as a team and have that momentum together is just amazing. We are Team USA. We’re very proud of the way we perform and no matter what happens, we all left it all out there on the ice tonight.”