ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – On the penultimate day of the Eberspacher World Cup luge season, the American doubles sled of Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman posted the team’s top result of the day, finishing ninth as the tour arrived this week in tony St. Moritz for the season’s final weekend.
The resort near the Italian border was a substitute site as the luge community could not visit Beijing for the pre-Olympic trip due to the pandemic. The World Cup, inexplicably, comes to Europe’s most renowned resort infrequently at most. The last time World Cup luge was contested in the Engadine region was in 2012. St. Moritz also hosted the sliding events for the 2020 Youth Olympic Games 13 months ago.
On a day where youth was served on the longest course in luge, the United States also claimed 14th, 17th and 21st places in the men’s singles race that concluded the day. Mazdzer, the Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist, was the team’s top racer as well in the latter event. Tucker West, who set a start record in Friday’s Nations Cup qualifying, took 14th and Jonny Gustafson, the Nations Cup silver medal winner, was 21st.
The concluding days of the 2020-2021 World Cup campaign are occurring one day after the passing of luge and bobsled legend Sepp Benz, 76, due to complications from the coronavirus. Ironically, as of two weeks ago, there were only four positive COVID tests throughout the entire luge season. All traveling members of the tour are tested weekly.
Benz served as FIL Executive Board member and chairman of the Sport Commission. He was instrumental in the creation of the team relay, which has been a wildly successful addition to the World Cup and Olympic programs. The cheerful visage of the Swiss native, in the form of a framed photo, is part of the season-ending awards scene at the St. Moritz leaders’ box. The competitions on Saturday were preceded by a minute of silence.
Several weeks ago, in a USA Luge media call, Terdiman, a doubles veteran having raced with three different front drivers in his career, singled out the new Latvian team of Martins Bots, 21, and Roberts Plume, 20. Terdiman’s prescience was rewarded Saturday morning when the rookies from Latvia jumped out to the first run lead in 54.050 seconds, and then held off their veteran teammates Andris and Juris Sics to win in 1 minute, 48.274 seconds on St. Moritz’s naturally-created track. It was their first career victory. The Sics brothers were just 0.06 of a second slower on the doubles course that measures seven-tenths of a mile in length. Italy’s Ludwig Rieder and Patrick Rastner were third, 0.2 from the winners.
It was the second World Cup podium of the season for Bots and Plume after claiming a bronze medal at home a month ago in Sigulda.
"It's crazy to be able to celebrate the first victory in the World Cup in such a beautiful place," said Bots. “The fact that we were in the lead after the first run didn't stress us. We already knew the track from the Youth Olympic Games."
The dominant teams of recent seasons were conspicuous by their absences from the podium. Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koeller of Austria, who clinched the overall World Cup season title two weeks ago, were back in seventh place. German teams took fourth and fifth, led by Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, followed by Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt.
"We were behind in training all week," commented Koeller. “In the race, we managed to get the two best runs." And Steu, beaming with joy, added: "It was a really cool season." In 12 starts, they registered four victories, three silver medals and two bronze.
The World Cup crystals were distributed to Steu/Koeller as they became the first team not from Germany to claim the overall crown in nine years. Eggert/Benecken were second in points, with Team Sics third, just one point ahead of Wendl/Arlt.
As for Mazdzer and Terdiman, they saved their best for last in a COVID-abbreviated winter, accelerating from top to bottom and gaining places in each run.
“Solid race today - two of our best runs of the week,” remarked Terdiman, 2014 and 2018 Olympian. “Obviously, with the flat start ramp and such a long time until there’s any real elevation change, the track is not playing to our advantages, so to come away with our best result of the season here, it’s awesome.”
After this weekend, the team returns to Lake Placid where Terdiman will go under the knife.
“I can’t wait to get home and get on the operating table. It’s time for me to get this left shoulder fixed. After the rehab period, I’m looking forward to getting back to tip-top shape so that Chris and I can really make progress on our starts. It (the start) really has been the crutch to our success and I think with both of us being at 100 percent, we can get ourselves in the mix on a very regular basis.”
The longest men’s track in the world, running just over a mile from St. Moritz to Celerina, was nearly too long for Austria’s Nico Gleirscher. The younger brother of 2018 Olympic champion David Gleirscher captured his first career World Cup gold medal on a layout that begins just down the strasse from St. Moritz’s designer shops and requires well over one minute to complete.
The Olympia run starts with a long, slow, flat opening section, but gradually brings sliders to speeds exceeding 85 miles-per-hour. The exact creation of the course is different from year to year. Ice is taken from nearby Lake St. Moritz and painstakingly hand-placed to create legendary turns such as Sunny and Horseshoe which begin as stone – not concrete edifices or rebar or ammonia as is found in the artificial tracks of the world.
The 23-year-old Gleirscher, in an opening leg time of 1:07.545, led by nearly 0.25 of a second over 2021 World Champion Roman Repilov of Russia. But the Russian fell off the pace in the final heat, winding up fifth. German Max Langenhan, a two-time Junior World Champion, closed quickly with the best final run, while Gleirscher bled time down the endless course, and saw his substantial advantage dwindle to 0.06 of a second at the end. Gleirscher’s aggregate winning time was 2:15.852.
"I'm doing extremely well," Gleirscher said. "Confirming my victory in the Sprint at the World Championships now is huge."
The Pyeongchang gold medal winner, on the other hand, did not find the Olympia course to his liking. His name was located at the opposite end of the results list.
Langenhan’s teammate, Felix Loch, saw his streak of singles wins in the two-heat event end at eight. The new overall men’s champion – Loch clinched last month – settled for third place, 0.07 from Gleirscher. Loch stood alongside the outrun to high five the winner as he slid to a halt. Behind Loch in the final overall ranking was compatriot Johannes Ludwig in second place. The 2018 Olympic bronze medalist was eighth on Saturday. Russia’s Semen Pavlichenko, 16th in the race, was third on the season.
Sunday’s season finale will begin with women’s singles at 4 AM ET and conclude with the team relay. Watch all the action on the OlympicChannel.com’s live stream. Broadcast coverage is slated for Sunday night at 10:30 ET on NBC Sports Network.