Mazdzer records two top 10s
WHISTLER, B.C. — On a night of track records at Whistler, when the 2010 Olympic run cruised in and out of the fog, World Cup luge fans were treated Friday to the highest speeds on the circuit.
USA Luge’s Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, had a significant say on the team’s best results of the night, as he took sixth place in the singles race after teaming with Jayson Terdiman to place seventh in doubles.
Men’s winner Wolfgang Kindl of Austria went through the speed trap at 90 miles-per-hour, belying the start of the Whistler course. It’s one which begins with a modest vertical drop, and demands a good start and smooth sliding to generate speed for the transition that leads to hellacious speeds.
Mazdzer and Terdiman continued their growth in the doubles discipline as Whistler marked the second World Cup stop of the season. The pair opened the event in fifth place, and in the end, they were just 0.25 from the podium in a tight race that was swept by Germany.
USA’s Jonny Gustafson gave us another look at his improvement in the men’s race that followed by being the first athlete of the night to lower the track record. His 13th place followed an outstanding season debut last weekend in Igls where he was 15th in singles and seventh in the sprint.
After winning here in 2016, two-time Olympian Tucker West was 19th.
German doubles teams ran the table at Whistler, with Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken emerging from a second heat scramble to win on the Vancouver Olympic track. Their individual heat times were second best, but when Austrians Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, the first heat leaders, faltered late in the final heat, Eggert and Benecken were the beneficiaries.
The winners, who took the 2018 Olympic bronze medal, totaled a short 1 minute, 16.691 seconds. Their top speed was above 82 miles-per-hour. They claimed the victory despite hitting both walls as they approached the finish time.
Eggert and Benecken bested teammates Robin Gueke and David Gamm by less than 0.02 of a second. Two-time Olympic champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt set a track record in the final leg and placed third in 1:16.720.
Last week’s gold medalists, Steu and Koller, seemed to have the race well in hand until they got off line late in the final heat and fell back to fourth place, matching their Pyeongchang Olympic performance.
For the Americans, it was another building block as they begin their second stint together. Mazdzer and Terdiman started with a 10th place effort in Igls a week ago. They were fifth at the break at Whistler, but skidded late in their second run to settle into seventh place.
But after being apart on a doubles sled for 10 years until Oct. 15, results of 10th and seventh places are pointing them in the right direction. They totaled 1:16.950.
“The expectation for us is to get comfortable, work on our starts and I think we showed a lot of promise today,” Mazdzer said. “We made a mistake in the second run, but we were in fifth place after the first run. We could have held that, so the thing right now is consistency which isn’t quite there, but it’s coming along. I think people are taking us much more seriously now.”
“I hope this is a foreshadowing of what the future could hold,” Terdiman said. “I’m trying not to look too into it. I’m still trying to stay grounded and level…..It’s awesome. It’s amazing. It’s a great start. Second week in. Second race and we’re in the top five position after the first run. Very stoked on that.”
Steu and Koller continue to occupy first place in the season-long chase for the World Cup. They have 260 points, while Eggert and Benecken trail by 20. Mazdzer and Terdiman are in 10th place after three races.
Kindl is showing clear signs that he is the modern-day Georg Hackl. That is to say, diminutive in stature, not much explosiveness at the start, but in possession of an aerodynamic position, sliding ability and sled technology that accelerates past the field.
The defending double World Champion mysteriously had no impact last February in South Korea. But he warmed up with a singles bronze and a sprint victory in Igls, and a nearly 0.1 of a second win Friday night over Felix Loch. The German won his first of two Olympic gold medals here in 2010, and followed it with a world title on the same course three years later.
But on this night, Loch was no match as he was defeated by an athlete who, ironically, seems to be channeling Hackl, who is one of Loch’s coaches. Kindl took the World Cup lead with 270 points, followed by Germany’s Johannes Ludwig, fifth in the race, with 215 and Loch at 205.
Kindl’s two runs totaled 1:39.774, including a track record opening heat, to Loch’s 1:39.873. Another Austrian, Reinhard Egger qualified on Thursday night and took the bronze medal in 1:39.901.
Mazdzer clocked 1:40.018. “The start is paramount because it is so flat up top,” Mazdzer said. “My starts were a lot better today than in training. They are still a little bit behind which I totally get. I’ve been working on my starts the last couple of weeks, so a little bit behind up top, but the middle section actually messed up a lot of people today. The track record dropped by a lot. It was fast, good ice. No one was expecting it for how foggy the conditions were.”
Gustafson, of Massena, is giving USA Luge added punch through the first two World Cup weekends. He got a brief taste of the leader’s box and at the end of the night, Gustafson recorded a combined 1:40.269, less than 0.5 of a second from Kindl. He will join his doubles teammates in the first team relay of the year Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve gone into the season with a much better attitude,” reflected Gustafson. “We changed it up quite a bit over the summer, and so far, it’s been serving me well. I’m going into every race happy to be here, happy to be sliding. I’ve got some new equipment this year that’s definitely been helping me. I’m more relaxed on the sled and it’s showing on the track.”
West, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, had a total time of 1:40.548.
In the World Cup rankings thus far, Gustafson is 11th, Mazdzer stands 15th and West 19th.