USA Luge head coach Miro Zayonc steps down citing continuing onset of Parkinsons Disease

By Sandy Caligiore | May 01, 2017, 9:02 a.m. (ET)


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – USA Luge announced Monday that Head Coach Miro Zayonc, citing the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, has stepped down from the position that he has held since 2012.

The quiet, knowledgeable Zayonc felt it was in the team’s best interest to remove himself, particularly going into the crucial 2017-2018 Olympic season.

The 56-year-old Lake Placid resident has accepted the position of Senior Advisor to CEO Jim Leahy, and will work together with Sport Program Director Mark Grimmette.

Assistant Coach Bill Tavares, a native Californian who has also become a long time Lake Placid resident, will take over on an interim basis for the upcoming campaign.

“Miro will remain active in our organization,” said Leahy. “From our technical initiatives to training programs, working with our current coaching staff and developing our elite athlete concepts, Miro will be a key contributor in the years ahead. In the luge world, he’s recognized for his high degree of understanding of the sport and its athletes. We’re fortunate to have his services.”

The Zayonc story is one of international intrigue coupled with stellar athletic achievement. A native of the former Czechoslovakia, he escaped his homeland in the early 1980s, landing in Canada. Ironically, while racing for the Canadian Luge Association, he captured the 1983 luge World Championship in Lake Placid.

However, his ultimate goal was to become an American citizen and compete for the United States. He did so at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games where, with a broken foot, he partnered with Tim Nardiello in doubles and finished 11th.

Upon retiring, Zayonc has been a USA Luge coach at virtually every level of the organization, and has served on the coaching staff in all Olympic Winter Games since 1992. He led the team to its first Olympic singles medal when Erin Hamlin captured the bronze medal in Sochi.

With Zayonc at the helm since 2012, USA Luge showed steady improvement, scoring a team-record 18 World Cup medals in 2015-2016. They followed that with another 11 World Cup medals and three World Championship podium results in 2016-2017. The latter achievement was also a high water mark for the organization.

Tavares also competed for USA Luge, earning an Olympic berth at the Albertville Winter Games, finishing ninth in doubles with Wendel Suckow. In addition, he has been an Olympic medal-winning head coach with the U.S. Women’s Bobsled Team, where he led the squad to a gold medal in Salt Lake City, with additional podium results in 2006 and 2010. He moved over to USA Luge after the Vancouver Olympic Games.