Above: Chris Mazdzer on his second run during the Winterberg, Germany World Cup on Feb. 21, 2016
WINTERBERG, Germany – In near monsoon conditions, American Chris Mazdzer slid to a World Cup luge silver medal Sunday in Winterberg, and finished the season third in the overall World Cup standings.
The two-time Olympian from Saranac Lake, N.Y. is the third United States men’s singles racer in team history to finish in the top three over the entire campaign. He joins Duncan Kennedy and Tony Benshoof on that elite list. In 2015-2016, Mazdzer only trailed overall champion Felix Loch of Germany, who clinched earlier this month, and runner-up Wolfgang Kindl of Austria.
“Tony Benshoof was a fantastic slider and Duncan Kennedy was an amazing slider,” said Mazdzer. “And to be ranked overall with those guys is huge for my career. Not a lot of people get this opportunity. I thought it was taken away from me after the first run so I was really bummed. But it’s a huge honor to be ranked third overall in the world and get a globe. I just hope it can make it back to Lake Placid in one piece.”
Mazdzer’s podium result, highlighted by the fastest second leg of the day, added to USA Luge’s World Cup record-breaking season as the team concluded the year with 19 medals.
Later, he joined Summer Britcher and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman for a fifth place result in the team relay. The U.S. also wound up third overall in the discipline standings.
Mazdzer’s singles achievement did not occur without a huge dosage of angst, caused by 50 degree temperatures, high humidity and strong wind. The competition could be conservatively categorized as abnormal, as start positions were greatly affected by slowing track conditions. In fact, Germany filed a protest with the race jury, which was rejected.
“This race was crazy in that I’ve never seen the time change so drastically in the field both runs,” continued Mazdzer. “I was kind of expecting a one-run race. The track was deteriorating. It was pretty messy out there. The fact that it was two runs played to my advantage. It was so wacky.
“It was a roller coaster for me today because (German) Andi Langenhan was really close to me (in the overall standings). He was fourth and I was 28th (after one run). So here I am between runs thinking, ‘There goes the overall with this crazy weather.’ I talked with (assistant coach) Lubo (Mick), (assistant coach) Bill (Tavares) and (head coach) Miro (Zayonc). We decided that the track’s going to be good for the first five sleds at least so let’s go for it and see what happens. I had the fastest second run. That was awesome right there.”
Early starters in each heat had decided advantages. David Gleirscher, of Austria, was the fifth man down the demanding track, and posted the best time of the first run. Arturs Darznieks, of Latvia, wore bib 13 and stood second, with Poland’s Maciej Kurowski, the third slider of the day, sitting in third place at the break.
Mazdzer, whose first heat was technically sound, had the 30th start, and finished 28th as water started running down the start ramp, puddled in some flat sections and corners turned from ice to frost. Stepan Federov, of Russia, the eventual winner, started 32nd and placed 26th to begin his day.
“Up top, it was a slip and slide,” stated Mazdzer. “You had to be careful on the start ramp going into curve one. There was wind. I got messed up with the wind going into the little start curve. I felt the wind pull me right. There were gusts to 40 miles-per-hour. The rain was sideways. The trees were bent over. In the curves it’s soft. Coming out, it can be slippery or soft. You have grip but you don’t. So it’s something you have to feel out but you know the curves are going to be slow, but the bottom is still going to be fast. There’s no set game plan that’s 100 percent.”
In all of this, the real battle was to summon the mental fortitude to understand what was happening with the weather and conditions, and keep oneself in the game. The medalists overcame that inner confrontation.
“To be honest I had kind of checked out mentally a little bit,” admitted Mazdzer. “Stepan, Wolfgang and Dominik (Fischnaller, of Italy), all of us had great second runs, but that first run put us so far back. The second run, we had a good draw, good runs and we climbed the ladder.”
The conditions saw Loch fall to sixth place, ending his nine race winning streak that included seven straight World Cups and two world championship victories.
Federov’s runs of 53.977 and 53.233 combined for a victorious 1 minute, 47.210. Mazdzer was a close second in 1:42.245, with Fischnaller third in 1:47.276. When the final wave had subsided, just 0.06 of a second separated the medalists.
After back-to-back fifth place World Cup overall finishes, this was Mazdzer’s best season to date and featured two gold medals, two silver and one bronze. He also contributed to a team relay gold in December.
Loch totaled 940 World Cup points, followed by Kindl with 795 and Mazdzer with 700.
Above: Tucker West tackles the formidable Winterberg start ramp. 2/21/16
Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn., had the fourth best final heat, but had difficulties settling into his sled in the first run, thanks to a cross wind. The Sochi Olympian, who will return to Union College for classes this spring, was 20th in 1:48.157. He finished seventh in the overall World Cup rankings with two medals to his credit and 524 points.
In abbreviated seasons, Aidan Kelly, of West Islip, N.Y., was 20th with 208 World Cup points, while Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah, placed 25th with 147 points. Both left the international circuit three weeks ago to continue training in Lake Placid and Park City.
Above: Matt Mortensen, Jayson Terdiman, Chris Mazdzer and Summer Britcher following the team relay event in Winterberg. 2/21/16
Canada was the race winner in 2:26.595. Russia was the silver medalist in 2:27.127, with the bronze medal going to Austria in 2:27.237.
The overall team relay champions won three times and had one silver medal in amassing 491 points in the six events. Russia claimed second with 385 points, with USA Luge next at 375, which featured a gold in Lake Placid. Canada was fourth. Latvia drifted back to fifth in the final standings as they did not finish two of the final three events.
The seven U.S. athletes will now return home for some needed relaxation, before reconvening in Lake Placid next month for further training and equipment testing. However, prior to that, Mazdzer will be one of 16 luge athletes heading to PyeongChang in early March to get first runs down the 2018 Olympic course.
USA Luge will host domestic races over the next two weekends in Lake Placid, as the Norton Youth National Championships will be contested February 27-28, followed by the Norton Junior National Championships March 5-6.
Men and relay results and overall World Cup final points
Chris Mazdzer interview below