KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - The second and final day of men's singles luge racing at the Sochi Winter Olympics had a fitting ending for the three athletes who wound up standing on the podium
At the same time, the results after Sunday's third and fourth runs left the three Americans who competed excited that they were on the Olympic stage, but also looking toward the future after they finished out of the medals.
Germany's Felix Loch successfully defended his Olympic title by winning the gold medal by nearly half a second. He was followed by two retiring veterans who have combined to compete in an amazing 13 Winter Olympics during their storied careers. Sliding on home ice, Russia's Albert Demchenko claimed the silver medal, and was followed by Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, who captured the bronze to earn a medal in all six Olympics in which he competed.
Saranac Lake's Chris Mazdzer slides through the finish curve on his first run Sunday at the Sochi Winter Olympics. He finished 13th.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Racing in his second Olympics, Saranac Lake's Chris Mazdzer led the young Americans, finishing in the same position that he did four years in Vancouver with a 13th-place result. Mazdzer's two other U.S. teammates were competing in their first Olympics, with Tucker West placing 25th and Aidan Kelly sliding into the 27th position among a field of 39 athletes.
Loch, who is also this year's World Cup points champion, won for the fourth time in a row, and the victory never appeared to be in doubt after Saturday's second run in the four-heat race. Loch stood in second place behind Demchenko after the Russian set at what was at the time a new track record in the opening heat Saturday. But the German then took control. The 24-year-old finished the race by putting down the fastest times in the second, third and fourth runs for a winning total of 3 minutes, 27:526 seconds.
Loch's first run Sunday, which was his third trip down the track, was a time of 51.613 that now stands as the current track record at the Sanki Sliding Center.
Demchenko, a 42-year-old who made his Olympic luge debut back in 1992 at the Albertville, France Winter Games, won the silver with a 3:28:002 combined time that included a record run of 52:170 in the opening heat that wound up be broken numerous times during the two days of action.
Mazdzer steadily improved throughout the race by turning in faster times on each run. The 25-year-old finished with a 3:29.954 total, which was 2.428 seconds off the winning pace. His final run of 51:198 seconds bettered the track record that was set prior to the Olympics.
"That last run was really good. I'm extremely pleased with that last run," said Mazdzer, who is expected to compete in the upcoming team race, a first-time event in the Winter Olympics. "My training was so difficult for me; that's why it's a little emotional right now. (I'm) just mentally broken down.
"I had four terrible runs in a row in training," Mazdzer continued. "My last two training runs were better but not where I wanted them to be, and I put down at least two runs that I wanted in the race so that's a good start. Hopefully going forward to the team comp I'll be able to do that."
Just 18 years old, West left his first Olympic competition wanting more. The Ridgefield, Conn. native finished with a 3:31.217 total and 3.691 seconds behind Loch
"I'm really a perfectionist, so I have mixed emotions about my first Olympics," West said. "It was exciting being here, but I know I could have down better."
Realizing that he didn't have much of a shot at the podium, Kelly just tried to perform consistently while enjoying his first Olympic Games. By his account, it was a mission accomplished. He finished with a 3:31.799 total, with his fourth and final run of 52.576 being the best of the race for the 19-year-old from West Islip.
"I really just wanted to have four clean runs," Kelly said. "I was extremely excited to go straight down the start four runs in a row and then throw together four okay runs. I was happy. I didn't think I had any medal contention so I just had a good time; soak it all in and get everything I could."