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Looking for an Olympic edge

March 27, 2017
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - With the next Winter Olympics less than a year away, members of the United States Luge team are putting in a little overtime in Lake Placid, hoping for an edge as they head into next winter.

The international competitive season ended nearly a month ago, and tracks around the world are shutting down with the onset of warmer weather. But Mount Van Hoevenberg is an exception.

The mile-long run there is expected to remain open for the next couple weeks, which provides athletes a chance to get in some spring sliding.

Article Photos

USA Luge veterans Erin Hamlin and Chris Mazdzer enjoy some downtime at the team’s headquarters in Lake Placid following a rainy training session Friday on the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

Part of the focus for team members is testing equipment. For others, trips to the track are more about enjoying the sport of luge with no pressure whatsoever.

On Friday, the Lake Placid News caught up with three Olympians from the luge team who are aiming to represent their country at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Two of the athletes - Saranac Lake's Chris Mazdzer and Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pennsylvania - didn't have the type of competitive seasons they were hoping for, but a third, Erin Hamlin, finished her campaign in style by grabbing three medals at the world championships.

All three, however, have already turned their sights toward the upcoming Olympic year, and for the trio, as well as other team members, there's no time like the present to start preparing.

"For me sliding in the spring is just about having fun. It's the only time of year we are on ice sliding with no pressure," said Britcher, who made five trips to the podium during the 2015-16 season but was blanked from the medals this past winter. "Even in the fall before we're racing, there's still that anticipation that the season is on its way. But right now, we can just go out to the track and it's almost like going back to being a kid. We are also testing equipment, but aside from that, it's like refinding that love for the sport."

Two seasons ago, Mazdzer, a two-time Olympian, finished ranked third in the World Cup men's singles standings, but dropped back to 11th this year, which was four spots behind USA Luge teammate Tucker West. Mazdzer said he plans to be better prepared heading into next season when he makes a bid for a third trip to the Winter Olympics.

"I didn't have the results I was looking for. It wasn't a full-on struggle but not in the top three consistently like I was last winter," Mazdzer said, describing the recently completed season. "I think a lot of it was playing around in the beginning of the year. We were trying to test a few new things and unfortunately the timing wasn't right, some of the tracks we went to for preseason, the conditions weren't very good, so it was hard to test equipment. By the time the first World Cup came around, I realized I wasn't 100 percent confident in my ability on the equipment that I had."

With that in mind, Mazdzer explained that now is an ideal time to get things dialed in.

"I actually think we're the only nation still sliding," he said. "I'll be working really hard over the next two weeks to get a solid setup that I'm comfortable with heading into next year - the sled, the feel, the runners, equipment. The time we are spending now is going to be very beneficial for the beginning of next year and that's really why I'm staying here until the track closes."

As the most veteran member of the U.S. Luge team, Hamlin etched her name in the history of the sport when she claimed the women's singles world championship in Lake Placid in 2009. And since that time, it's been a given that the native of Remsen always had the potential to be a contender on luge's top level. Still, her bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics came as a surprise. And heading into what may be her final Olympic appearance, the 30-year-old hopes she will be right in the mix again, especially with the experience she'll carry into next season.

"I hadn't been on the podium in a while, and that season I didn't have my best season," Hamlin recalled, describing her run-up to the Sochi Olympics. "I was just going in to kind of enjoy those Olympics. I didn't expect to be on the podium for sure. I think I was in the mix of names when they were talking about medals, just because of my past history, but not necessarily expected to be in the mix because of my recent history.

"I'm still going strong," Hamlin continued. "Now I can go to most tracks and feel comfortable right away. I have experience on those tracks and it's fun knowing I can go places and there's a lot less stress having to figure out tracks. Obviously, Korea is a new one so that's added a whole new ballgame."

Britcher said she was just happy to be in her first Olympics in 2014 after being a surprise qualifier for the U.S. team. The 23-year-old said that won't be the case in Korea, where she hopes to be sliding as a two-time Olympian with four more years of experience under her belt.

"Going into the World Cup season for Sochi, I had not actually competed in a World Cup," Britcher said. "I had only been competing on the junior World Cup level. I was very much an underdog, a long shot, and I was very happy just to be there. This time around, my goal isn't just to qualify for the team. My goal is to do the best that I can in the Olympics, at the games. Obviously qualifying is the first step, but that's not what I have my sights set on."

Although all three veterans are currently working hard on home ice, they will be mixing some vacation time in with their offseason training. Later in the summer, Hamlin will spend some time in Mexico attending her boyfriend's sister's wedding. Britcher said she's heading to the beach after spring sliding is completed for "a little bit of sunshine after a long winter."

Mazdzer has an even bigger adventure in store as he plans to drive across the country with a good friend and a former school mate from his days at the National Sports Academy.

"We have no set time, no set plan," Mazdzer said. "We want to go south, and then cut across the southern part of the country - Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California. We'll visit friends in San Diego, and other friends along the way. There's no timetable. Just at our own leisure, which is gonna be nice. And then after that, it's time to get serious and be doing starts and getting strong."



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