Chris Mazdzer set to retire

Local Olympic set to wrap up luge career this weekend

Chris Mazdzer celebrates his silver medal final run Sunday at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

LAKE PLACID — U.S. luge Olympian Chris Mazdzer spent this past Saturday working on his sled at the USA Luge training facility.

“It’s the thing that no one sees,” he said.

The four-time Olympian and 2018 luge silver medalist who grew up in Saranac Lake has spent countless hours tinkering with his sled, but this was one of the final times he spent trying to perfect it.

Mazdzer, 35, plans on retiring from the sport following the conclusion of the upcoming FIL World Cup in Lake Placid this weekend, he announced Monday.

He wants to spend more time with his wife, Mara, and his two-year-old son, Nicolai, instead of traveling for luge. And with another child on the way, Mazdzer says this is the right time to hang up the sled.

Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, brakes in the finish area after his first luge run at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP photo — Michael Sohn)

“We’re expecting baby number two in April, and it became really challenging in that sense because I want to be home,” he said. “My son — no one ever taught him to fold his arms and be upset — but when I get on Facetime with him, he’s upset that I’m gone, and I get it.”

Mazdzer also started working at a new job outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, where he currently lives. Though he originally planned on competing through the World Championships this season, it quickly became apparent that he couldn’t do everything.

“I can’t dedicate the time it would require to be an exceptional luge athlete and have a job and have a family,” he said. “Something had to give, and honestly, looking back, I’ve had a fantastic career, and I’ve had a bunch of amazing life experiences. I think this is the way to do it. Let’s go out at home.”

Mazdzer made the decision to step away from competing in luge a couple of weeks ago, and since that decision, he’s felt better about it with each growing day.

With his final competition a few days away, Mazdzer doesn’t think he’s going to get emotional at the start of the run. He’ll be too focused on competing.

Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, pushes off at the start of a luge training run during the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Mazdzer announced Friday his World Cup season was over due to an injury. (AP file photo — Wong Maye-E)

“I will say this … I’m probably really going to enjoy the finish dock with family, friends and teammates,” he said. “I’ll probably cry then.”

Silver medal hero

Mazdzer wasn’t that nervous before he won his silver medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

He remembers vividly how cold it was — somewhere around -2 or -3 degrees with wind chill.

“All the other competitors — you could tell they were nervous because the track conditions were so hard,” Mazdzer said. “But I was like, growing up in Saranac Lake and training in Lake Placid, this what it’s like every winter. It felt like home.”

Standing on top of the Olympic Sliding Centre in 2018, Mazdzer was in a unique position, holding a podium spot with just one final run. Up to that point, no American men’s singles slider had won a medal at the Olympics.

In the heat of the pressure, Mazdzer pulled up to the bars and let out a small yet noticeable smile before pulling away down the track.

“I knew I had it,” he said. “I didn’t even mean to smile. That’s not the normal game face should have.”

Mazdzer said he knew he had all the support behind him.

“Even if I failed I had friends and family that were going to catch me if I fell,” he said. “That was the greatest moment of my career.”

Just months before, Mazdzer seemingly hit rock bottom, posting disappointing results at the World Cup level, a year after he finished third overall in the World Cup standings.

“Despite giving 100% sometimes, I would only get 10% back in return as far as results,” he said.

But the lackluster results didn’t unmotivate him; instead, it forced him to work harder.

“That was probably one of the best things for me as a person was in those two years where I finished third overall in the world and felt like I was on top,” he said. “It made me realize that luge is what I did and it wasn’t who I was. As an athlete, I was able to detach my emotional feelings and my confidence from results and I focused more on the process.”

Mazdzer spent hours working on his sled. He needed better equipment but wasn’t getting enough funding, so he sold his car.

“My girlfriend — now wife — was like you can live with me until you can get back on your feet,” he said. “I was going to go home broke without a car and try to figure out how to start life with just a bicycle to my name, and I was OK with that. That allowed me to just go with it at the (2018) Olympics because I was comfortable with who I was.”

When he finally crossed the finish line, Mazdzer threw a fist in the air and grabbed an American flag from his family and friends in the stands. He finished just 0.026 seconds behind Austria’s David Gleirscher, who won the gold. But to Mazdzer, the color of the medal didn’t matter in that moment.

“(When) I got an Olympic medal, it didn’t change me,” he said. “It just changed what I could do.”

Face of USA Luge

At 17 years old, Mazdzer watched his hopes of making his first Olympics vanish when then-American teammate John Myles beat him in a race-off for the final men’s singles spot for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.

It stung at the time, but Mazdzer, who had only competed in two senior-level World Cups at the time, still had a bright future ahead.

Even Myles knew that Mazdzer was going to achieve greatness. He said in 2005 that people were going to be very familiar with his name for years to come.

Years before that moment, Mazdzer was just a young kid living in Massachusetts when he first found his love for sledding.

After his family moved to the Plattsburgh area when he was 8, his parents took him to Lake Placid to try bobsled. But an impatient Mazdzer noticed the line to try luge was much shorter, so he tried that instead and was hooked almost immediately.

His parents, Dr. Ed Mazdzer and Marty Lawthers, moved to Saranac Lake to help him pursue the sport, and at 13 years old, he first went to Europe on the junior circuit.

Mazdzer said he really grew as a professional athlete during the 2005-06 season.

“The year before, I didn’t even think that was possible and I really dedicated myself to the sport and training,” he said. “I saw results from that and it’s really motivating as an athlete.”

He qualified for his first Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010, where he finished 13th overall. Four years later, he recorded an identical 13th place at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, before winning the silver at the 2018 Games.

His historic achievement catapulted him to national fame, which included an appearance on TV’s “Dancing with the Stars,” where he placed fourth overall ahead of NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former MLB star Johnny Damon. Mazdzer became the face of USA Luge.

After winning silver, Mazdzer decided to take on another challenge heading into the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, by also competing in doubles luge alongside Jayson Terdiman.

But things didn’t go smoothly when Mazdzer broke his foot on the second day of the season, and the addition of new equipment set the duo back.

“I lost out on so much time to test and build. That whole World Cup season was like testing and falling (then) testing and crashing,” Mazdzer said.

With one shot to make the 2022 Olympics, the duo raced off against other American doubles sled for the lone doubles spot. But tragedy struck when Mazdzer and Terdiman crashed on their final run.

“We were really far ahead and just made a simple mistake and that was it,” Mazdzer said. “That was our one shot. I felt really bad for my teammate — Jayson Terdiman — because he was there with me, struggling all year.”

Even with an up-and-down season, Mazdzer managed to post an eight-place finish at the Olympics in the men’s singles. He once again had the best time among all American sliders.

“I had an absolutely amazing performance,” he said. “I had some solid runs, and I could not have done any better. I know I left it all out there.”

The next chapter

Mazdzer doesn’t really want to think of it as a retirement. Instead, it’s more of a “transition.” He still plans to stay involved in the sport, serving as the USA Athlete Commission representative.

“When you do this for 25 years, it’s hard to just walk away,” he said. “I’m going to have to figure out how to not put so much time into this.”

In October, Mazdzer started working at a technology company called BambooHR, which provides human resources software as a service in October.

“I do tech sales for them, and I have a great team,” he said. “It’s nice to be a part of something that requires a lot. I really enjoy working with the people on my team right now because it’s a totally different skill set, so in that sense, I feel like I’m learning all over again, which is nice. The next step for me is really being there with my family, and I’m excited about that.”

Family has always played a big role in Mazdzer’s career. His family cheering section has often been one of the loudest at the track at past Olympics and World Cups.

“Win, lose or crash, they’ve been there with me 100%,” he said. “I have friends that have made it to all the Olympics that they could’ve actually been to — they couldn’t make it to China (in 2022).”

Mazdzer also credits his coaches, teammates and friends for his success in his career.

“The world sees me go down a track for 45 seconds at the Olympics, but they don’t recognize the huge support staff with coaches, families, friends and even teammates,” he said. “We’re all helping each other out. So much goes into every single race that not a lot of people see. We’re all team players here.”

While Mazdzer will compete for one last time on Friday and Saturday during the FIL Luge World Cup he said he wants to be remembered for his passion for the sport and hopes that when people in the United States hear about luge, they now know what it is.

“I think that would be the coolest legacy to leave behind is that I grew awareness for the sport and as an athlete-rep,” he said. “I tried to make this sport a better place for athletes.”


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