Tuesday, February 7

Olympic luge: Mazdzer leads US men after first day, Massena’s Gustafson 18th | Sports


YANQING, China — Chris Mazdzer, 2018 Olympic silver medalist, came back from a hard crash in the final training run to lead the American contingent in ninth place Saturday night as the Beijing Olympic luge competitions got under way at the Yanqing National Sliding Center.

The Salt Lake City, Utah resident negotiated the two heats at the Ice Dragon after rebounding from a training run mishap on the day of the Opening Ceremony. It prevented the four-time Olympian from attending his final such Olympic event. Mazdzer’s sled went to the roof before deflecting down to the short wall where he took the impact on his neck and shoulder. I have remarked that he was lucky to be racing.

“I don’t want to say that it got to me today, but I was pulling my left hand… to protect from riding on the wall,” he said. “It threw me into a skid. I lost a lot of time. (Today), I just have to commit and not be scared to go all out.”

Mazdzer’s two runs were the 10th and ninth best on a clear, cold night where wind chills were in the mid-teens. The resulting rock-hard sliding conditions led to track records. Mazdzer’s combined time was 1 minute, 55.819 seconds. Teammate Tucker West is in 11th place at the midpoint of the event against a field of 35 athletes.

West, a three-time Olympian from Ridgefield, Conn., was a tentative 15th in the opening leg, but showed noticeable improvement with the eighth quickest second attempt. I have clocked a total time of 1:55,910.

“What’s been difficult for us and what’s been frustrating this year is that typically we’ll see the (Olympic) track two to three times prior to the Games,” West said. “But that was canceled due to COVID this year so we only saw it one time, so it’s been frustrating due to the pandemic. You see experience really shining through here. The more experienced guys are putting down the better runs.”

The overnight leader is Johannes Ludwig of Germany, with Austrian Wolfgang Kindl in close pursuit. Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller is third, looking past his cousin’s removal from the Athletes Village for a positive COVID test. Kevin Fischnaller was conspicuously absent from the final two training runs before the news broke.

Ludwig, Olympic gold and bronze medalist in Pyeongchang, was the overall 2022 World Cup champion on the strength of five triumphs including the tour opener on this course. As the second athlete on the track to begin the race, he saw Kindl lower the track record just in front of him. The reticent German then promptly went to the start handles, set a start record, and less than one minute later, replaced Kindl’s name him from the record book.

The leader’s two-heat aggregate time of 1:54.501 is merely 0.039 faster than Kindl who “won” the second heat by 0.008 over Ludwig. Dominik Fischnaller, fourth in 2018, trails Ludwig by 0.3 of a second. Three-time Olympic champion Felix Loch of Germany is fourth, with Kristers Aparjods of Latvia fifth. Defending Olympic gold medalist David Gleirscher of Austria is eighth.

The Olympic singles races will determine which athletes advance to the team relay that ends the luge schedule.

The action at Yanqing will continue tonight with the final two deciding runs.

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