Chris Mazdzer of the United States competes during the men's singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Tucker West of the United States prepares to start his second run during the men's singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Aidan Kelly of the United States brakes in the finish area after his first run during the men's singles luge competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – American Chris Mazdzer, in his second Olympic appearance, is 13th after two of four heats in the men’s competition at the Sanki Sliding Center in the Caucasus Mountains above Sochi, Russia.
The Saranac Lake, N.Y. luge racer, 13th in Vancouver four years ago, will try to better that performance in the final two runs Sunday night. Tucker West is 23rd and Aidan Kelly 26th, both of the United States, entering the final night. The close friends are first-time Olympians.
Mazdzer’s midway total of 1 minute, 45.387 seconds trails leader Felix Loch of Germany by 1.238 seconds. Loch is trying to defend his 2010 Olympic title.
“My first run was the best I had all week,” said the 25 year old Mazdzer, who was 10th at the time. “I was extremely happy with that. But the second run I had a couple of small mistakes. I went late into curve 10 and I really think that cost me all my time.
“I would say I was a little conservative today. When you’re sitting in 10th place it doesn’t matter if you’re sixth or 20th. This Olympic race should be all or nothing. I think I have to go a little less conservative than I did today and see what happens.”
When he won in Vancouver, Loch, now 24, was the youngest men’s luge champion in the sport’s 50 year Olympic history. Saturday night he trailed Russian Albert Demchenko by .01 of a second after the first leg, before blowing past the 42 year old veteran with a flawless second run that saw him gain time even through the three uphill sections of the 1,814 meter course.
Loch’s two heat aggregate time was 1:44.149, including a track record 51.964 seconds in the second run. Demchenko posted 1:44.443. Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, currently occupies third place. The 40 year old carried his country’s flag Friday night in Fischt Stadium. Both Demchenko and Zoeggeler were offthe pace at the start, but used their superb driving skills and a long track to put themselves in medal contention.
The Italian will end a storied career at these Games, trying to become luge’s most decorated Olympic athlete. In five previous starts at the Winter Games, Zoeggeler has two gold medals, one silver and two bronze. Germany’s Georg Hackl retired in 2006 with five Olympic medals.
Zoeggeler could conclude with a total of seven if he medals Sunday night and then again in the new team relay on February 13.
West of Ridgefield, Conn., at 18 years of age, is the youngest male racer to secure an Olympic berth in U.S. history. In the opening heat West left the start handles and drifted to the left wall, losing gulps of time. But to his credit he corrected and actually gained going down the long 18 turn layout.
“It (the error) is pretty easy to flush out,” remarked West. “You’ve got 17 curves ahead of you and you’re going 80 miles per hour. You’ve got to let it go by you. Part of the sport is to have short term memory.”
His two-run total is 1:46.108. “Honestly the runs were nowhere near where I wanted them to be,” he continued. “But that’ll give me the determination to do even better tomorrow. I’ve got some time to make up so it’ll be fun tomorrow.”
Kelly had a combined time of 1:46.467. “My first run wasn’t the best run I’ve had all week,” he stated. “It was OK, not great. I knew I had a lot of time to make up and I knew I was really tense because it’s the Olympics. I didn’t want anything to go wrong. In the second run I tried to let the sled fly a little bit more and make a lot fewer corrections. Just relax and have fun.It was first run jitters. I know I left a lot of time out there on the track tonight and hope to pick that up tomorrow.”
The final two runs begin Sunday night at 6:30 local time, 9:30 AM EST. Live coverage can be seen at http://stream.nbcolympics.com/luge/winter/14902/.
Men's results after day one of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games
Interviews with Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and Aidan Kelly