American Chris Mazdzer humbled by breakthrough luge silver medal

Chris Mazdzer, left, is congratulated after his team's luge run Thursday at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He finished with a silver medal. Andy Wong/The Associated Press

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The math humbled Chris Mazdzer.

He’s one of 33 American men who have competed in singles luge competitions at the Olympics. The way he sees it, each of them devoted somewhere between 10 to 20 years to the sport and the quest of becoming the first to win a men’s singles medal for the U.S. And until these Pyeongchang Games, they all fell short.

That is, until Mazdzer broke through. He got the silver medal, but made clear it’s not only for himself.

“It’s our entire lives,” Mazdzer said. “There have been 33 lives that went into this. That’s centuries of hard work.”

Finally, another corner has been turned by USA Luge. Erin Hamlin’s bronze in the women’s race four years ago was one breakthrough, and Mazdzer’s silver at these games was another. He nearly got another medal in the final luge event in Pyeongchang, when he was on the relay team that finished fourth — just one-tenth of a second shy of bronze.

“We put in our best effort,” Mazdzer said. “Fourth place is the hardest place to be in the Olympics, that’s for sure. But honestly we all did an awesome job and I couldn’t be happier.”

If Mazdzer returns — and every indication is he will — the U.S. men should continue being a major contender internationally. The women’s team will face a void at the top with Erin Hamlin retiring, though Summer Britcher and Emily Sweeney have both won World Cup races and it wouldn’t surprise anyone on the team if they were both back at the Beijing Games in 2022.

Britcher and Sweeney both said Hamlin’s Olympic bronze was a confidence boost. The men’s team may get a similar jolt from Mazdzer’s silver.

“I’m incredibly thrilled for him,” USA Luge teammate and World Cup race winner Tucker West said.

Luge is Mazdzer’s career, in more ways than one.

Sliding season only lasts a few months each year, but the training is year-round. And Mazdzer also serves on International Luge Federation boards, meaning he travels extensively for offseason meetings to both advocate for his fellow sliders — all of them, not just the Americans — and help set policy to better the sport going forward.

“I only can use this as a way to further our sport and better myself as an individual and help others,” Mazdzer said. “And that’s really (bleeping) cool. It’s incredible.”

He’s friends with Russians, Germans, Italians. He’s as good at talking as he is at luge, if not better. There are some plans getting made to help him capitalize on his Olympic success — not just in a financial sense, but in an awareness one as well. He’s always wanted to be an ambassador for his team and his sport, and that new silver Olympic bauble dangling from his neck is surely going to open some new doors.

“It’s really cool in the sense that I have the ability to give back in a really meaningful way,” Mazdzer said.

Now, the victory tour disguised as an offseason awaits.

First, they’ve gone totally mad for Mazdzer in his hometown of Saranac Lake, New York. His family home now has an oversized homemade silver medal hanging by the door, and schoolkids gathered at an ice palace for a watch party during the team relay. He’s been front-page news in the local paper; “Olympic hero” was the headline in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise when he won silver in the men’s race, the package taking up two-thirds of the page.

To be an Olympic medalist from anywhere, that’s a big deal.

To be one from the Lake Placid area, where accomplishments from their Olympic-hosting years of 1932 and 1980 are celebrated daily, that makes one local royalty for life.

Thing is, Mazdzer wants to ensure the other 32 men who went before him to the Olympics share in the credit.

“We finally did it,” Mazdzer said. “To be the person that after 54 years, to be the one who can say thank you to all the generations before, I think that’s the coolest part. I can say thank you and say it with a tangible item.”

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