Saranac Lakers thrilled as Chris Mazdzer earns silver

Neighbors Bob and Amy Sweet celebrated Chris Mazdzer's Olympic silver medal in luge and hung a congratulatory silver-medal decoration on the front of the Mazdzer family home Sunday morning. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

SARANAC LAKE — Early Sunday morning, many local residents were glued to the TV, cheering for their own Chris Mazdzer at the Winter Olympics — and the village was buzzing with excitement after he won a silver medal in luge.

The only other time an American has won an Olympic medal in singles luge was four years ago, when Mazdzer’s teammate Erin Hamlin won bronze.

Neighbors of the Mazdzer family, Amy and Bob Sweet, celebrated the win with some medals of their own. On Sunday morning they hung a congratulations sign attached to circle of cardboard covered in aluminum foil above Dr. Ed and Marty Mazdzer’s front door on Birch Street. Chris lived there growing up.

Bob said they live-streamed Mazdzer’s final run. Their immediate reaction — tears of joy.

“This is big news for Saranac Lake,” Amy said. “We’re so thrilled for him and his family.”

The whole time Amy talked about Chris, an ecstatic smile never left her face. She tried covering her mouth with her hands a few times, but her excitement shone through.

“I wanna see him on the Wheaties box,” she said with a laugh.

Amy and another neighbor, Jackie Gardner, have been feeding and taking care of the Mazdzers’ family cat while everyone is overseas in South Korea.

“We’re part of the team, too,” Amy said chuckling.

In Pyeongchang, a “USA” chant from Mazdzer’s family and friends turned to silence as he prepared for his fourth and final run. As soon as he burst out of the starting position and pushed himself down the track, the cheers started again.

Mazdzer descended the Alpensia Sliding Centre’s track at speeds exceeding 80 mph, not bumping into any walls along the way. At some points it looked like he could beat Austria’s David Gleirscher and take home the gold. He crossed the finish line with a cumulative time of 3:10.728 and followed Gleirscher by only 0.026 seconds.

Germany’s Felix Loch was expected to win his fourth Olympic gold medal. He won gold medals in men’s singles at the last two Olympics, plus one in the inaugural team relay in 2014. However, on his final run, Loch bumped into a wall and turned sideways going into curve 12. This slowed his speed so much that it dropped his cumulative time down to fifth place, out of the medal bracket.

Cherie and Steve Racette’s son DJ went to school and ran track with Chris Mazdzer in Saranac Lake.

“Oh my gosh, it was just amazing watching him,” Cherie said. “When Chris jumped the fence to go over to his family, it was like, ‘Yea!’

“We were standing in front of the TV going, ‘Go, go!'”

The Racettes said they felt sad that Loch blew such a strong lead, but they also agreed he has won enough Olympic medals.

“Let someone else enjoy it,” Steve said.

They were also excited to hear the Olympic broadcasters mention Saranac Lake more than once.

“And they didn’t even say we were the coldest spot in the whole nation,” Cherie added. “That’s usually why we’re published.”

“They did say he was used to the cold weather, though,” Steve said with a laugh.

Mazdzer was born in Pittsfield, in western Massachusetts, and lived for part of his boyhood in Peru, New York, near Plattsburgh where his father worked as a neurologist. Chris tried luge for the first time at age 8 in Lake Placid. Not long afterward, his family moved to Saranac Lake.

Dr. Patricia Monroe said she was “sitting there in the shower, trying to watch the end of the race” Sunday morning. Her pediatric practice used to be across the hallway from Dr. Ed Mazdzer’s neurology office at Saranac Lake’s Adirondack Medical Center. Marty Mazdzer was the receptionist, and Monroe described them as “the nicest people.” Dr. Mazdzer has since moved his practice back to Plattsburgh, although the couple still lives in Saranac Lake.

“He did a nice interview,” Monroe said of Chris. “He’s such a well-spoken young man. … The last thing he said was hello to everybody at home.

“You know what the best part of that whole Olympics was? His mother was just as excited at the end of the first race as she was at the end of the fourth.”

As the news about Mazdzer spread, Jeff Branch and his ninth-grade son Logan were excited to hear it.

“This small town produces; it really does,” Jeff said.

“Cool!” Logan said. “That’s really good.”

Ken Fontana, co-owner of the Blue Moon Cafe, used to luge at the World Cup level in the 1980s. He’s a fan of the sport through and through, and has a few posters from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, hanging in his restaurant.

Fontana said he figured Mazdzer would have a respectable finish, but winning the medal is more than he could’ve hoped.

“I would’ve been ecstatic if it was someone from God-knows-where in America, but having a local win makes it that much better,” he said.

As a former slider, Fontana said he respects Mazdzer’s hard work and strategy.

“You could see he slides like a guy who never makes the same mistake twice,” he said.

It’s doesn’t just take the right equipment to be a good slider, according to Fontana. Much of it involves dedication and respecting your coaches.

“So much work goes into shaving those seconds off,” he said. “Just to get that potential, you need to be a special person. You got to have thick skin and be a hard worker.”

Fontana said he believes Mazdzer’s win could bring luge out of the niche realm in the U.S.

“The future of the sport is the 5-year-old kid who watched Chris win the medal today,” he said.