SARANAC LAKE - When Chris Mazdzer arrived home here Monday night for the holiday break, his luggage was a little heavier than usual.
Mazdzer is happily weighted down with two silver medals, the first solo ones of his six-year World Cup luge career. After winning his first men's singles medal with a runner-up finish Dec. 6 in Whistler, he wrapped up the first half of this season by sliding to his second Saturday in Park City, Utah.
The 25-year-old veteran first started the sport when he was 8. Although he had a strong finish to last season, his back-to-back medals in Whistler and Park City over the past two weekends came as a surprise.
Second-place finisher Chris Mazdzer, of the United States, races down the track during the men's Luge World Cup Saturday in Park City, Utah.
(AP photo — Rick Bowmer)
Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, holds his silver medal after finishing in second place during a Luge World Cup men's event in Whistler, British Columbia, on Dec. 6.
(AP photo — Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press)
"I had a strong finish last year with a fifth and sixth, so it's kind of been building up," Mazdzer said. "I knew last year that if I had a very good run, I could be a top 10, but I didn't expect this.
"When I began in the men's field, all the best guys back then are still competing today. None of them retired. Just walking next to those guys is a big deal. It's just kind of weird jumping into the medals like I did."
In Saturday's race, Mazdzer finished second to Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, who was already a legend in the sport of luge before the Saranac Laker even started sliding at the World Cup level.
The 39-year-old Zoeggeler took the gold with a two-heat combined time of 1 minute, 30.599 seconds. Mazdzer was runner-up in 1:30.839, and his second run was just .002 off the gold medalist's time in the heat.
Mazdzer said his two runs in Park City were his fastest ever on the track that hosted the Winter Olympic sliding sports in 2002 when he was 12 years old.
"Typically, I hold back a little in training. I think most of the guys do," Mazdzer said. "Getting a World Cup medal, that's something I've always dreamed of, and I definitely had an advantage in North America. When I finished those runs, I thought to myself 'Wow, I went really fast.' This year, we've done a lot with the sled, and that's a big part of racing luge. I think the combination of the momentum coming out of last year and a good sled has helped get me to the point I'm at. I guess I'm peaking at the right time."
Mazdzer said his familiarity with the run in Park City also helped him land his second men's singles silver in as many weeks. And after claiming an individual silver, he helped his teammates grab another second-place result in the team relay, a sport that will debut in the Sochi Winter Olympics.
He explained that the track at the Utah Olympic Sports Park is quite difficult near the top, and there is one section where most every competitor hits a wall.
"I think there were about five athletes who didn't hit that wall," he said. "I did hit it, but I just brushed it. I think I was the only one who did hit the wall and came out straight. That was big."
Although Mazdzer has now seen one of his dreams come true, he said coming home for Christmas this time seems to be just like it always has.
"I would have expected things to be different, but when I got home, I felt completely normal," Mazdzer said. "I think the best part is the satisfaction I got from medaling. It was nice hearing the crowd."
Mazdzer, who said he's best when sliding on cold, hard ice, will be home through Dec. 27, and then head to Europe starting in Koenigsegg, Germany for the second half of the World Cup tour that will lead up to February's Winter Olympics. Those games will be Mazdzer's second while representing the United States.
"When we were on the (Sochi) Olympic track last February, the temperatures were around 40 and 50 degrees," he said. "It does get cold there, and that's what I'm hoping for. On that track, it's all about perfection."
Asked if he feels more pressure now after pocketing a pair of silvers heading into the holiday break, Mazdzer answered that really isn't the case.
"I wasn't expecting to have a medal streak in the first place, so we'll just see what happens," he said. "Right now, I'm just happy to be home for a bit."