WHISTLER, British Columbia – American Chris Mazdzer executed a hair-raising second run Friday night, and hurtled two Germans en route to a World Cup luge silver medal on Whistler Mountain’s 2010 Olympic track.
It was Mazdzer’s first career podium result, and came two weeks after finishing fourth and clinching a nomination to his second Olympic team.
In the race held in brutally cold conditions above Whistler Village, Mazdzer became the first United States luge racer to score in the top three since a Tony Benshoof World Cup bronze medal in the 2006-2007 season. The last U.S. World Cup victory was Wendel Suckow’s gold medal in the Nagano pre-Olympic test event in 1997.
“It came down to the wire. It was a high-risk, high-reward run,” said Mazdzer. “I was on edge. It was a pretty sketchy run, but I kept it going straight most of the time. I was like a bowling ball going down the track, but I held on.”
Tucker West took 11th and has now satisfied a criteria for Olympic team nomination. He hopes to verify that status next week in Park City, Utah. Three men’s singles sliders will be on the start list in Sochi.
Matt Mortensen of Huntington Station, N.Y. and 2006 Olympian Preston Griffall of Salt Lake City finished ninth in the doubles race and need a top 10 finish next Friday in Park City to nail down one of the two Olympic team nominations.
Mazdzer lead a group of four American luge racers in the top 21 Friday night. The Saranac Lake, N.Y. athlete, who will compete in his second Olympic Games in two months, stood fourth at the intermission, just 0.006 of a second from third place. But a go-for-broke final heat hurtled him over Germans David Moeller, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and Andi Langenhan.
Mazdzer was only topped by defending Olympic champion Felix Loch, also of Germany. The winner had the two fastest runs of the night, posting 48.258 and 48.428 seconds. His total of 1 minute, 36.686 seconds was nearly 0.3 clear of Mazdzer’s 1:36.978.
“I felt so good in training,” continued Mazdzer. “All my runs were spot on. I just went for it. I went for a little less friction (with the sled’s steel runners). Going down I could tell I was on the edge and holding on pretty much everywhere.
“It’s so competitive in the sport right now. Anyone in the top six can medal. You have to have two really solid runs and be going for it. That’s what it takes. I understand the pressure. It’s taken an entire career to push through and not play safe.”
Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller, who has now positioned himself as a clear threat in Sochi with a gold and two bronze medals in four starts, was third in 1:36.981.
Loch has won two of four races and leads the World Cup overall standings with 330 points. Moeller is second with 300, while Fischnaller is third with 295 points. Mazdzer improves to fifth place with 199, just behind Armin Zoeggeler, of Italy, who took an uncharacteristic 10th in the race.
West, 18, qualified with a bronze medal in Thursday night’s Nations Cup event and continued that momentum into the World Cup, where an Olympic dream is close to reality. “It’s bad to say, but that’s all I was thinking about during the race,” admitted West. ‘Luckily I didn’t lose focus and it now gives me a sense of ease going into Park City. Now I can sit back and enjoy racing rather than trying to meet a criteria. It definitely takes a lot off the mind.”
Typically, U.S. equipment is predisposed to colder, harder ice, sensing its sleds run better in those conditions. But new technology is eliminating some of the weather concerns.
“Dow and Norton have put a lot of work into my set-up,” continued West. “I really think my sled is exactly where it needs to be. I’m excited.
“I was a little nervous (before the race) because we hadn’t seen these cold conditions, but I put a little more edge on my steels for this week and it all seemed to work out fine.”
Teammates Taylor Morris of South Jordan, Utah, and Aidan Kelly of West Islip, N.Y. took 17th and 21st places, respectively. Morris clocked 1:37.656 and has 80 World Cup points for 22nd place overall. Kelly recorded 1:37.901. He’s in 24th overall on 79 points.
The United States doubles teams watched Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt continue their domination as the Americans chipped away at the Sochi 2014 selection criteria for Olympic team nomination.
Two-time Olympian Christian Niccum of Woodinville, Wash and Jayson Terdiman of Berwick, Pa. placed 12th, 0.7 of a second from the Germans. It’s their lone result in four World Cup starts that helps them in the selection process. They must finish in the top five a week from now or potentially enter a race-off if others do not satisfy a criteria.
Jake Hyrns of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk of Fort Washington, Pa., 19th Friday in 1:14.616, banked a 10th place last month and need another similar result in Park City to be chosen for Sochi.
All Olympic luge teams will be finalized by the end of the night on Dec. 14, although in the case of the U.S., race-offs may be needed to complete the 10-person Sochi squad.
Wendl and Arlt increased their lead in the overall World Cup standings. The winners were timed in 36.522 and 36.565 for a combined 1:13.087. It was their third win in four starts. Teammates Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken were second in 1:13.171, with Austrians Peter Penz and Georg Fischler third in 1:13.351.
Wendl and Arlt have 385 World Cup points to the Eggert and Benecken total of 290. Penz and Fischler are next with 249.
Mortensen and Griffall, timed in 1:13.558, are 10th with 119 points; the Niccum-Terdiman tandem is 14th with 104 points; Hyrns and Sherk are in a tie for 18th at 95 World Cup points.