Mazdzer slides for one last time | News, Sports, Jobs

Chris Mazdzer, right, hugs his mother Marty Lawthers after finishing his final run of Saturday’s FIL Luge World Cup men’s single sprint race in Lake Placid. Also pictured is his father Ed Mazdzer.
(Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — With one final run left in his career, Olympic luge athlete Chris Mazdzer stopped and gave a quick smile to the camera on top of the Mount Van Hoevenberg track Saturday afternoon.

The four-time Olympian and 2018 luge silver medalist who grew up in Saranac Lake rarely shows emotion before he slides, but this was different.

Racing on his home track, emotions got to Mazdzer right before his run in the FIL Luge World Cup men’s singles sprint race.

“I might’ve cried a little bit,” he said.

But within seconds, his game face was back as he slid more than 70 miles per hour down the Mount Van Hoevenberg track. The 35-year-old crossed the finish line to his family, friends, and USA luge teammates and staff cheering him on.

“Coming up the outrun and having both sides with friends and family, it was such a powerful experience sharing it with everyone,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be.”

While Mazdzer didn’t have the greatest run of his career, placing 13th overall in the men’s singles sprint World Cup, it was one of his most memorable.

Among those who greeted him were his wife, Mara, and son, Nicolai, who Mazdzer plans to spend more time with during his post-luge career. They traveled well over 2,000 miles from their home in Salt Lake City to watch his last run. Some of those who greeted him had traveled hours to watch him race one last time.

“It’s not easy to get to Lake Placid,” Mazdzer said. “So people have to really care, and so many people flew in from so many places around the country for this, and it really means so much to me.”

Mazdzer’s mother, Marty Lawthers, was the first person to give her son a hug following his last slide down the Mount Van Hoevenberg track. Lawthers was the one who brought her son to try luge well over 25 years ago.

“I was just trying to find something to do for a fourth grader in the winter here because it was cold,” she said. “They had this luge and bobsled thing — it was a neighborhood thing — we were just trying to keep him busy and he loved it.”

Mazdzer competed in his first World Cup in 2005 and quickly became the face of USA Luge when he became the first-ever men’s singles slider from the United States to medal at the Olympics, earning a silver in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and the second singles medal in federation history. Mazdzer’s long-time teammate, Erin Hamlin, won bronze at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“I am grateful to share the unique honor of being the only singles medalists in the U.S. since our careers ran in parallel for so long and there were so many moments shared on the journey to those podiums that undoubtedly impacted the outcomes,” Hamlin said prior to the race. “Whether that was advice on sliding, equipment, representation to the FIL where he is always fighting for the athletes, or being the curator of fun … ensuring we know the best coffee spot at stops on tour … or not letting us leave Whistler without doubling our weight in baked goods from Purebread.”

Hamlin, who retired from luge in 2018, said she’s known Mazdzer since they were “awkward pre-teens.”

“I have countless memories of times on and off the track,” she said. “They always involve an adventure, dedication, putting in work, the occasional sibling-like quarrel, often questionable decisions — mostly involving freezing cold water or high-risk environments — often eating something, but everyone revolves around having a great time and living life to the fullest. That’s exactly how he approaches sliding. Putting it all on the line, high risk, high reward or nothing else, and sacrificing just about anything to find success. Then celebrating it to the fullest, no matter whose it may be that weekend.”

USA Luge teammate Summer Britcher described Mazdzer as a friend, a teammate and a mentor. She commended him for his work in growing the sport as an athlete representative for FIL and being an overall leader for USA Luge.

“I’ve kind of come into those leadership roles as well, to have a teammate to show me the ropes on the track and off the track,” she said. “Chris also knows the best spot for a cocktail anywhere we go. It’s really sad to see him go. He has a beautiful growing family, and I’m super happy for him, but it’s going to be hard to have a luge season without Chris Mazdzer. I’m going to miss him.”

His respect within the sport extended further just USA Luge. 2022 Olympic Silver medalist Wolfgang Kindl of Austria waited for Mazdzer outside the changing room before giving him a hug.

Mazdzer made his rounds along the finish line deck, hugging each USA luge teammate as they finished. The 24-time World Cup medalist and the only U.S. luger to medal in both singles and doubles World Cup competitions knows his team is in good hands going forward.

“I know all of the athletes are going to rise,” Mazdzer said. “We all support each other and that’s not going anywhere.”

While his teammates will prepare for the second FIL Luge World Cup of the season in Whistler, British Columbia, next week, Mazdzer will head back to work on Tuesday at his new job which he started in October.

“Life doesn’t stop,” he said. “Luge has stopped (for me), but life goes on. I’m ready for the next chapter, and I’m ready to be with my family.”

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