Chris Mazdzer was one of the new faces on the USA Luge team when he competed in his first Olympics four years ago in Canada. Back then, he was just happy to soak up the joy of being a first-time Olympian.
But heading into the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the Saranac Laker is now a veteran on the team, and he's looking to accomplish a lot more than just enjoying the moment.
In 2010, Mazdzer was the youngest of three men's singles racers on the Olympic team, behind Tony Benshoof and Bengt Walden. Now those two have retired and it's up to the 25-year-old to step forward, both as a mentor for two teenagers who will join him in men's singles at the Olympics and also as America's brightest hope for the podium in the discipline. And that's just what Mazdzer hopes to do while competing alongside teammates Aidan Kelly, a 19-year-old, and 18-year-old Tucker West.
Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake arrives in the finish area during a World Cup luge race in Altenberg, Germany on Jan. 18.
(AP Photo -- Jens Meyer)
"I would think this is much different than the first time," Mazdzer said. "When I went to the Olympics, I had two older teammates -- Tony and Bengt -- that could really move me through the process. Their experience with going to Olympics kind of got me through Vancouver.
"Now I'm the oldest men's singles and the only athlete that's previously gone to a games," Mazdzer continued. "For me, I'm really just trying to remember what Vancouver was like and trying to help out Aidan and Tucker as much as I can. But going into Sochi, I'm less focused on the overall experience and more on the race than in Vancouver."
Although Mazdzer isn't considered a favorite to medal in men's singles at the Sanki Sliding Center, it's certainly a possibility given that he just wrapped up his most successful season on the World Cup tour by finishing fifth in the men's overall points standings. It was a season that saw Mazdzer reach the World Cup podium for the first time by racing to silver medals in Whistler, B.C. and Park City, Utah during December.
Prior to this winter, Mazdzer only had one World Cup finish in the top 10. This time around, he had five. The fifth came on Jan. 26 with a seventh-place result in the World Cup season finale in Sigulda, Latvia.
On Russia's Olympic track, he placed 12th a season ago in a World Cup test event.
If Mazdzer fails to reach the podium in men's singles, he is expected to have another opportunity to compete for an Olympic medal in the team relay, which will make its debut this year in Sochi.
"I would say the U.S. team for sure has been the most consistent team in the team relay," Mazdzer said. "We've had very solid runs in all of our team competitions. We definitely can compete. We have two silvers this year, so I feel very confident in all my teammates' ability to perform under pressure. We all enjoy doing the team relay."
Despite the security issues being raised over the Sochi Olympics, Mazdzer will have fans traveling to Russia to support him during competition, including the men's singles heats taking place Feb. 8 and 9, Saturday and Sunday after the opening ceremonies.
"I have four direct family members and also four friends that will be coming to Sochi, and all I've heard from them is that they were really excited," Mazdzer said. "They have all of their many bits of paperwork figured out, and think they're not really concerned about anything more or less than supporting me right now."