SARANAC LAKE — Chris Mazdzer decided to make his life more complicated after winning an Olympic silver medal in luge in 2018: He teamed up with his old junior doubles partner Jayson Terdiman while continuing to race on his own.
Singles racing is hard enough. Mazdzer, who grew up in Saranac Lake and whose parents still live here, had undergone a frustrating 2017-18 season and rebuilt his sled right before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It worked. He earned the first ever Olympic medal for a U.S. male in singles luge.
Now he is trying to make his fourth Olympics in doubles as well as singles. It is by no means a sure thing, but if he qualifies for both, he would be the first for the U.S. since Wendel Suckow in 1992. If he also makes the team relay event, it would be an all-time first.
Adding to the multitasking, the 33-year-old Mazdzer is a new father. In April, he and his wife Mara welcomed their son Nicolai, nicknamed “Nico.” They live in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Chris has always been somebody that has a million things on his plate, so adding a whole other life form into the mix wasn’t a huge change for him,” Terdiman said in a recent call with reporters, showing his wry humor. “But I feel like it has grounded Chris quite a bit, in a great way.”
Terdiman, who just turned 33, is facing his own milestone. The Pennsylvania native, who now calls Lake Placid home, plans to retire after these Olympics, which if he qualifies would be his third, with his third partner. He told reporters his body isn’t bouncing back from surgeries and injuries as fast as it used to. He hopes to work for USA Luge afterward, and officials say they would like to make that work.
Race to qualify
After a holiday break, the U.S. luge team is back in Europe. It’s crunch time. Races this weekend and next — in Winterburg, Germany, and Sigulda, Latvia, respectively — will determine who gets to compete February in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games at Beijing, China. USA Luge officials expect these Olympians to be announced Jan. 10; their list will be sent to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for approval.
In men’s singles, Jonny Gustafson of Massena and Tucker West of Connecticut have secured Tier C, the lowest of three qualifying levels. Mazdzer has yet to secure a tier. Gustafson is currently ranked 19th, West 22nd and Mazdzer 25th in World Cup standings.
None of the three men’s doubles teams has made a tier yet. Mazdzer and Terdiman are ranked 12th in World Cup standings, Sean Hollander of Lake Placid and Zach DiGregorio of Massachusetts are ranked 21st, and Duncan Segger of Lake Placid and Dana Kellogg of Massachusetts are ranked 26th.
Earning a tier does not guarantee a trip to the games. The U.S. can have a maximum of three men’s singles racers and two doubles teams in the Olympics, but the men and doubles teams need to improve their performance these next two weekends to avoid losing a slot in each discipline, according to USA Luge spokesperson Sandy Caligiore. If they don’t, one of the three singles racers could be bumped, and Mazdzer is on the bottom right now. For doubles, it would mean two teams would miss the cut instead of one.
“Doubles is like a marriage”
In 2018, as Mazdzer celebrated a whirlwind of post-medal fame with a run on TV’s “Dancing with the Stars,” Terdiman’s second Olympic doubles partner, Matt Mortensen, retired due to back pain. It was “kind of a blow,” Terdiman said on the media call, but then Mazdzer agreed to team up with him again.
“Doubles is like a marriage,” Terdiman joked. “I’m twice divorced, on my third time through. And just like any relationship, there’s give and take.”
He said Christian Niccum, his partner at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, believed in letting the sled do most of the work, which helps build up speed but also makes crashes more likely. Mortensen, on the other hand, was a “lines guy” who was precise about how to enter and exit each curve. Mazdzer is a mix of the two.
“Chris loves letting the sled run but also likes being really precise about lines,” Terdiman said.
“The biggest difference between child Chris and adult Chris is about 20 kilos of weight,” Terdiman said of the muscle mass Mazdzer has gained, but, “He’s still the same guy … very fun. … I’m maybe 5 pounds heavier than when we were teenagers.”
Their start to this season was slowed by Mazdzer breaking his foot in the preseason, but Terdiman said he thinks they can do well in the Olympics, if they qualify.
He still describes himself as an adrenaline junkie, saying of luge officials, “They feed you that addiction very slowly, to hook you, and then by the time you’re old enough to realize that what you’re doing has consequences, it’s too late. You’re already in love with that feeling and that rush, and nothing else — you know, I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good plane, I own a crotch rocket (motorcycle) — nothing gives you that feeling that luge does. And so we’re all just a bunch of big kids all day, getting to go ultimate sledding.”