Lanesborough native Chris Mazdzer ready for Olympic luge
For 51 weeks and 350 days, said Lanesborough native Chris Mazdzer, "I am definitely not pampered, catered to or made to feel exclusive."
So, if you are wondering what it's like to be an Olympian, well, that's about it in a snowy nutshell. You are pampered, catered to and made to feel exclusive. The international World Cup luge circuit, Mazdzer added, offers far less glitter than the Sochi venue that Mazdzer will call home during the next few weeks at the Winter Games.
"I've got just about everything I want and need at my disposal," said Mazdzer, 25, the five-time defending U.S. national champion in luge singles. "It will be me against the clock. I don't really look at the competition as something where another athlete can affect my performance. In fact, many of us are very close friends. It's a sport where fractions of seconds can separate the top finishers. I just have to prepare and do all the technical things correctly.
"But can I tell this is the Olympics and not a World Cup event? Absolutely. Just having seen the security getting here and while I've been here. If you look close, you can see the Russian sniper nests in the trees."
The German lugers are considered the best in the world and are the favorites to medal at Sochi. Mazdzer, though, did take a sixth overall in the recent world championships held in British Columbia, Canada, in late December.
Each sledder at Sochi will take two runs on consecutive days -- the luge singles is scheduled fror Feb. 8-9 -- with the best combined time deciding the winner.
The only thing missing from the Mazdzer resume is a winter birth. He went home to Lanesborough from Berkshire Medical Center in June, 1988, the son of Dr. Edward Mazdzer and his wife, Marty Lawthers. Mazdzer, now a neurologist, lived first in Lenox and then moved to Lanesborough, which is where Chris first began to test his sledding skills.
Sisters Kate and Sara came along, but at that point the elder Mazdzer moved his practice to Saranac Lake, N.Y., which turned out to ge a good thing. There was a professional bobsled, skeleton and luge course at a nearby mountain, and the site offered the youth in the area a chance to experience the tracks on Friday evenings.
Most of the kids, said Edward Mazdzer, chose the bobsled. But Chris opted for the luge.
"It was set up for just a short run," Edward Mazdzer recalled. "But I'll never forget the smile that Chris had on his face when he came back up the mountain after his first trip down."
The son agreed. "A lot of the kids liked the bobsled, but you weren't always the one who had the chance to steer the sled. I giess I was all about the quantity of times I could be in charge and actually steer the sled. I had a lot more opportunity to do that on the luge. I loved it."
The passion and thrill of putting the metal to the ice and hurdling down a mountain at speeds between 60 and 80 mph has not ebbed, Chris said.
"You control the sled while on your back and use your entire body," he said. "It's about technique and aerodynamics. There are points during a race that you have to tilt your head back and race blind.
"When you race you are very much focused on the moment and it's hard to think about the things you need to do. It's hard to focus on everything else. That's why preparation is so important."
Unlike other sports of the Winter Games, luge athletes usually reach their prime during their late 20s to mid-30s. If that's the case, then Mazdzer is just reaching his performance peak. He placed 13th overall during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and in doing so put up some personal-best times.
The online college student believes there is a "significant difference" between the 2010 version of Chris Mazdzer and the new-and-improved 2014 model.
"It's an experience-based sport," he said. "I think you'll find that many of the elite lugers in the world began competing between the ages of 8 and 13. It takes that long to get things right. I'm still working on some basic stuff."
Ed Mazdzer said he's fairly resilient when it comes to the fear factor of his son's sport. He added that there are times when he worries more about Chris and his very active sports agenda during the offseason.
"Oh, that's just a parent talking," said Chris with a laugh. "I do try and stay active during the summer. I've had my share of bumps and bruises in luge, but I've never broken any bones or had anything traumatic happen."
Nothing traumatic? Mazdzer hopes that streak continues. Something special? That could be in the offing.
"It may sound a bit selfish, but I'm in this sport for me," Mazdzer said. "I've been doing it for a long time. But yes, I understand I'm representing my country. And if I do medal, I'm sure someone will hand me an American flag and I will gladly wave it."
On a smaller but stili mportant level, he will be waving that flag for his native Berkshire County.
"I was born in Pittsfield," he said, "and I learned how to walk and sled in Lanesborough. I think I've stayed pretty true to my roots."
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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