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Mazdzer: It’s about the experience

February 9, 2018
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Two years ago, Chris Mazdzer was enjoying all kinds of success competing on the World Cup circuit in men's singles luge. He was in the midst of his best season ever during a winter where he claimed two gold medals, a pair of silvers, a bronze and finished third in the overall points rankings, which tied for the top result ever for United States in men's singles.

The two seasons prior to his great run of 2015-16 also went pretty well in terms of results. He collected five medals and was ranked fifth in the final points total during both of those winters, and those results don't even include the numerous medals Mazdzer and his teammates captured in relay races.

But just when it looked like the Saranac Laker would be poised to continue his climb to consistency at the top of the luge world, the good results stopped coming. He never reached the podium last winter, and that was again the case during the recently completed World Cup season. What has made the difficult run more frustrating for the 29-year-old two-time Olympian is his belief that he has done all the right things.

Article Photos

Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake gestures after finishing a World Cup luge run in Lake Placid on Dec. 15, 2017.
(AP photo — Peter Morgan)

After finishing 13th in his first two Olympic appearances, at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Mazdzer has decided not to speculate or even set a goal of where he might land in the standings later this month when he competes in his third Olympics in South Korea. The reason is simple. Mazdzer isn't sure how he will fare on the Pyeongchang track, where he placed 12th during World Cup competition a year ago.

There will, however, be two sure bets for Mazdzer at the 2018 Winter Olympics. He will cherish the opportunity of being a member of the United States Olympic Team for a third time, and he will pour every ounce of his energy into the men's singles race, which will be a four-heat competition held on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 10 and 11.

"Being a three-time Olympian, it really is incredible, and I will absolutely enjoy every second of it, " Mazdzer said. "There is a part of me that is bitter. Sometimes in life, you can do everything right and not know why it isn't working. That's how it's been, but on the other side, I'm going to give 100 percent. The goal is always to perform to the best of my ability, that's what I'm going to do, and we'll see what happens. I'm not going to associate any number with it."

However this year's Olympics unfold, he said there will be no regrets whether he continues his competitive career or steps away from the track. Like many elite athletes involved in Olympic sports, the road Mazdzer has been on has shaped his life in ways that stretch way beyond the actual the sphere of competition.

"This is the part I can take away," Mazdzer said. "As a person, I've been interested in so many cultures, I've met so wonderful people from all over the world, I have had so many great experiences. I can connect with people very easily, and I've found it easier and easier to overcome language barriers.

"I can stomach any kind of situation. I can climb up from any valley," Mazdzer continued. "I've learned how to deal with defeat and how to handle success. What makes an Olympian great is the struggle. For me, it's not about my results but who I became."

Obviously, Mazdzer would love to stand on the podium next month in Pyeongchang. What Olympian wouldn't? But ultimately, he doesn't believe that medaling is what the Olympics are all about.

"Honestly, I'm really looking at what the Olympics are supposed to do," he said. "The Olympics really combine the world in a harmonious state. They bring the world together. They unite human kind and promote peace."

Mazdzer admitted that he was fortunate just to make this year's Olympic team. Eight years ago, he was ecstatic to be going to his first Winter Olympics, and four winters ago, as most decorated men's singles competitor for the U.S., he secured his spot on the team months in advance of the Sochi Games.

But this time around, his trip to South Korea remained in doubt right up until the final race that was included in the selection process - December's World Cup event in Lake Placid, where he finished eighth.

"To make the team this year was difficult," he said. "At no point was I on the team until the last race," Mazdzer said. "Getting that out of the way was a huge relief."

Mazdzer, along with coaches and staff from USA Luge, have been looking at all angles to find why he has been turning in lower finishes he has been turning in on the track. One thought Mazdzer discussed was his upper body, which he described as bigger than the majority of luge athletes.

"I've really increased my upper body strength, size over the last two, three years," Mazdzer said. "That's helped at the start, but it's actually changed the balance on my sled. Other athletes are just as heavy as I am, but they are more proportional. We've just kind of been trying everything we can to find out what has been going on.

"When it comes down to it, I can't blame anyone but myself for what is happening. It's tough to go from winning medals to not being on the podium. I chalk it up as a life learning experience. You learn a lot of lessons through this. Definitely, after the Olympics, I will evaluate what has happened and go from there."

Although it might appear to be a gloom-and-doom scenario for Mazdzer, it's anything but that. The 14-year veteran of the national team is thrilled to be traveling to Pyeongchang for his third Olympics.

"I love the opening ceremonies and connecting with other members of Team USA," he said. "This Olympics is going to be about sharing the experience with anybody I can. I'll have family there. I'll have friends there. I'm pumped. I can't wait."

And Mazdzer should be making that trip with some new found optimism and even a bit of momentum. In the final World Cup race of the season held last weekend in Sigulda, Latvia, he slid to a sixth-place finish, which was his top result this winter.

"I actually think things are getting a little better," Mazdzer said prior to the Sigulda races. "At the Olympics, I will go out there to perform, but I'm not putting any expectations on myself. I feel good. I feel like I can go out and win. It's not out of the realm."



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