LILLEHAMMER, Norway - On a day when Italy and Germany took the headlines at the World Cup men's singles opener in Lillehammer, USA Luge saw Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake take 14th place, followed by Aidan Kelly in 21st.
The two Americans were positioned to slide into the top 10 at the end of the day, but Lillehammer's 1994 Olympic course was tricky then and remains somewhat of a puzzle now. It becomes more difficult when you add sunny, warmer weather to the equation which softens the ice and requires a perfect driving touch.
Mazdzer, a 2010 Olympian, was 11th at the break, and like most all competitors, found the Lillehammer course difficult to master with no errors. Mazdzer had a sixth place in the 2013 World Championships and then came to Lake Placid in February to take fifth place, both career bests.
Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake, center, poses for a photo with Tucker West, left, and Taylor Morris following October's Norton Championships on Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid.
(Photo — Roy Bombard)
On Sunday, Mazdzer was a frustrated racer, however, who came up the outrun with arms thrown out to his sides.
After one heat, Kelly indicated that his strong week of training was going to pay dividends. The West Islip native gained gulps of time in the final curves of the opening heat, and stood in eighth place. But in his second run start, the 22-year-old pulled to the left wall on the start, putting him in correction mode thereafter. Correction equals excess friction through added steering, which equals loss of speed and time.
Other Americans in the event were Joe Mortensen, of Huntington Station in 26th place, Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah in 27th and Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn. in 28th.
Italy's rising star, Dominik Fischnaller, set a track record in the opening leg en route to the gold medal. It was a Lillehammer mark previously held by three-time Olympic champion Georg Hackl of Germany.
The achievement marked Fischnaller's his first career victory, and with the ageless wonder Armin Zoeggeler taking fourth in the event, just 0.08 seconds from the podium, it can be said that both athletes will pose serious threats to the German juggernaut three months from now at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.
"This comes as a complete surprise," Fischnaller said. "It's unbelievable to achieve a better result than renowned lugers such as Moeller, Loch or Armin Zoeggeler. However, I have profited a lot from Armin. He always helps me with his advice."
Fischnaller's times of 49.172 and 49.174 seconds totaled 1 minute, 38.346 seconds. Germany's David Moeller was second in 1:38.492 with defending Olympic and World Champion Felix Loch, also of Germany, third in 1:38.497.
The 20-year-old Fischnaller comes from a luge family, similar to the sliding Hubers, in the South Tyrol village of Meransen. Last season, he finished seventh in the World Cup overall standings entering seven of nine events. He missed the other two races to compete at the junior world championships in Park City, Utah where he won the men's gold medal and was part of the winning relay team.
Several weeks later, he joined Zoeggeler on the World Cup podium in Lake Placid, finishing with the silver medal to his teammate's gold.
Zoeggeler, meanwhile, now approaching 40 years of age, will carry the Italian flag at the Opening Ceremony in Sochi on Feb. 7. Over the ensuing two nights, he'll try to add to his Olympic collection of two gold medals, one silver and two bronze. Sochi will be his sixth Olympic berth; he has medaled in the previous five.
With the introduction of the Team Relay in Sochi, the man known as "The Cannibal" could leave Russia with two more.
To conclude the American story, Mazdzer clocked a pair of runs that totaled 1:39.040. Kelly's aggregate time was 1:39.171, Mortensen's was 1:39.621, Morris' was 1:39.683 and West came in at 1:39.821.
With World Cup performances leading to U.S. Olympic Team berths in February, nothing definitive emerged from this race. But there are four more opportunities over the next month, resuming next weekend in Igls, Austria, site of the 1964 and 1976 Olympic luge competitions, and where the sport made its Olympic debut 50 years ago.