(L-R) Jayson Terdiman and Chris Mazdzer pose for a photo.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Jayson Terdiman had a rough summer. The doubles luger was training for the 2018-19 season. But he had no partner — meaning Terdiman’s luge career was about to end. Matt Mortensen, whom Terdiman teamed with for the past four years, had retired.
“It was a long summer of a lot of unknown,” said Terdiman. “I wasn’t very motivated.”
Even more surprising, USA Luge looked as if it would field no doubles teams at all this winter. Mortensen had retired earlier than his teammates expected; Terdiman thought he might hang on for one more season so they could compete in one final world championship together. The 2019 FIL World Championships are in Winterberg, Germany, and the duo had done well on that track.
The other two senior doubles teams, namely Justin Krewson and Andrew Sherk, who finished eighth at the Olympics, also retired after last season.
Doubles was the first luge discipline to win Olympic medals for the USA Luge — with Chris Thorpe/Gordy Sheer winning a silver medal and Mark Grimmette/Brian Martin taking bronze at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998. But USA Luge has struggled with doubles development in recent years.
“In the past, everyone just focused on their little part of the world [junior coaches on the juniors, and senior coaches on the world cup athletes],” explained U.S. luge coach Bill Tavares. “I think it just caught up with us. All of a sudden, as a senior coach, I looked back and said, ‘Who do we have now? When I turned around, there was nobody.’”
With no doubles team, USA Luge would not be able to compete in any team relays this season. Relays consist of one women’s singles slider, one man and a doubles team. The U.S. has racked up several podium finishes in the event in the past few years, including a silver medal at the 2017 worlds. The U.S. finished fourth in the 2018 Olympic luge relay.
As a junior slider in the early 2000s, Mazdzer teamed with Terdiman in doubles. They won 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.
“I honestly felt like I was a better doubles athlete,” Mazdzer said.
But leading up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Mazdzer realized that his best route to the Games was in singles, not doubles. At the time, the U.S. was stacked with good doubles teams, including two-time Olympic medalists Grimmette and Martin.
So Mazdzer bid Terdiman adieu in doubles and made the 2010 Olympic team in singles (finishing 13th in Vancouver). After the Olympic Games, he returned home and raced nationals with Terdiman in doubles so his teammate could hold a national team spot.
“I always wanted to come back to doubles,” said Mazdzer, on a sunny fall day after he and Terdiman had taken six training runs on the Lake Placid track.
Mazdzer mentioned the idea a year ago. But Terdiman thought he was kidding, especially after PyeongChang.
“Why would he?” asked Terdiman. “He just got a silver medal at the Olympics. He’s got things going for him.”
Then at teammate Erin Hamlin’s wedding on June 28, 2018, both Mazdzer and Terdiman learned that Mortensen was serious about retirement. A month later, at another teammate’s wedding (2010 Olympian Megan Sweeney), the two sliders talked. They then mentioned the idea to the coaches.
“Chris is a phenomenal athlete, so when he approached us and Jayson approached us, what are you going to say, no?” said Tavares with a laugh.
Terdiman was relieved.
“I had a future again,” he said. “It was a huge weight off my shoulders when I found out [Chris] was interested in doing this and was serious.”
The two took their first runs on the Lake Placid track on Oct. 15, Mazdzer as the top guy, Terdiman on the bottom. They started at the junior start (halfway up the track), and Mazdzer felt “like we were going a thousand miles an hour.”
“We weren’t going very fast,” deadpanned Terdiman.
By the third run, it was coming back to Mazdzer.
“It was like riding a bike,” he said. “Still, there’s all those little things you miss. You understand how to ride a bike. Now you have to figure out how to be the fastest one on that bike.”
But even though it’s the same sport, driving a doubles sled is much different than singles. In singles, a luger drives with more subtle movements. In doubles, the top man steers by shifting his weight — violently almost, described Mazdzer.
The two disciplines also start at different places on the track. Men’s singles starts from the top of most tracks, doubles from the women’s or junior start. Playing in Mazdzer’s favor, relays begin from the women’s start, so he is at least familiar with the track lines from the lower starts.
So how will he balance the two disciplines?
No man in recent memory has balanced singles and doubles at the highest level. At the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, American Wendel Suckow finished ninth in doubles (with Bill Tavares) and 12th in singles.
German luge legend Georg Hackl — a five-time Olympic medalist — won one of his 22 world championship medals in doubles in 1987. A year later, he won an Olympic silver medal in singles and finished fourth in doubles at the Calgary Olympic Winter Games. But Hackl never won world championship or Olympic medals in the two disciplines in the same season.
And now there are more luge events than when Hackl competed — sprints and team relays, along with the singles races.
On race weekends, Mazdzer will race three times if a relay is on the schedule and four times when sprints are scheduled (singles and singles sprint, doubles and doubles sprint).
“I need to find that balance [for training runs], if it’s 70-30, 60-40, 50-50,” said Mazdzer, who’s confident in his fitness and ability to do multiple runs each training day. And after a 21-year career in luge, every track feels like a home track to Mazdzer.
Coach Tavares is optimistic.
“Will he be spread too thin? It’s yet to be seen,” said Tavares. “The way Chris is and how he handles stuff, Chris is always spreading himself too thin. But Chris does that really well, and he’s able to rise to the occasion.”
Terdiman realizes that he will not get on the ice as much as in year’s past.
“I’m prepared for this,” he stated.
Their goal this season is to be consistently in the top 10 in doubles. And to slide four more years — to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Should they qualify, it will be Mazdzer’s fourth Olympic Games and Terdiman’s third.
When it comes to the team relays, the U.S. will potentially field Tucker West as the men’s singles slider and Mazdzer/Terdiman in doubles. West and Mazdzer have the two fastest reaction times in the world. It helps the American team stay close to the dominant Germans.
“If we are able to figure out the small things, with Tucker and Chris’s reaction times, we’re going to close the gap on that German advantage,” said Terdiman.
The 2018-19 FIL World Cup tour opens on Nov. 24-25 in Innsbruck, Austria. The first (of six) world cup team relays is scheduled for the following week, in Whistler, British Columbia.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.