Olympic medalist Chris Mazdzer discusses his decision to retire from luge competition
Chris Mazdzer was the first U.S men’s singles luge athlete to win an Olympic medal. In 2018 he captured a silver medal at the Olympics. He has won 24 World Cup medals. He also competed in men’s luge doubles, winning bronze at the 2020 World Championship. And he is among a select group to have medaled in both singles and doubles in World Cup competition. But this weekend, Mazdzer’s extraordinary competitive career is coming to a close in Lake Placid. He spoke to WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley about his career and why he decided to retire.
Mazdzer. I’ve been doing this for 23 years. My body is definitely not the same. But more importantly I now have a family and we’re expecting baby number two in April. So I guess the biggest piece of this is during the 2022 Olympic season I left home September 15th. By the time I got back home at the end of February I only spent eight days at home. And that’s something that I don’t want to do anymore. There’s so many factors that led into this. But really the straw that broke the camel’s back was seeing my son just disappointed with me on Facetime that I wasn’t home. And especially with baby number two coming along the way the focus is going to be on family. And I’ll tell you what, when I first made the decision was I sad? Absolutely, right, it’s something that, luge has been a part of me for 23 years, international and not just sliding but being involved with the sport through the political side, being an athlete representative, developing equipment. The scars, the bruises, the bumps. All of that. It’s hard to leave behind especially the feeling going down the track, which is my favorite part outside of everything. But I knew it was the right call when just a few days later it felt good.
Bradley: Chris, one of the things that you mentioned was that your body is not the same. How big a factor in your decision were those past injuries and how it’s affecting your body?
I honestly feel really good for the most part. My neck’s bothering me a little bit. But regardless of all the injuries I’ve had I feel very healthy. But it’s just one of those little factors that I was talking about, right? Those Facetimes with my son where he’s upset. Thinking about my family, the future, not wanting to be away. Knowing that my neck isn’t what it used to be. So it was all of these things that added up to the decision of leaving where starting out this season I didn’t initially think I was going to retire. But what better way to do it than going out on your home race. This is where I grew up. This is where I started luge at eight years old and almost 30 years later this is where I’m going to say goodbye to the sport. And I think that is a really rare thing to be able to do.
You mentioned you get that feeling going down the track and you just mentioned you started when you were eight years old. And one of the questions that’s been in my mind is, you know, you lay on your back on a sled and you go ripping down this ice laden chute. How did you initially become enamored of that at eight years old and then stay enthralled with it for, as you said, nearly 30 years?
Yeah. I grew up in Peru, New York and moved to Saranac Lake, New York. And the winters in northern New York, they’re pretty long so if you don’t find a way to enjoy the outdoors you’re going to go crazy. And as a kid growing up in Peru, New York I loved sledding. And I was really fortunate where at eight years old there was a program for bobsled and luge for kids to try. And at the time I only knew about bobsled because of the movie “Cool Runnings”. That was like such a popular movie, everyone loved that, so we were like oh cool. Let’s go to Mt. Van Hoevenberg to do bobsled. But the problem with bobsled was the line was too long. It was the popular sport and by the end of the night you’re only driving one or two runs. But there was this other sport called luge, which at the time was on a different track a little higher up on the hill, that didn’t have a line. So if I ran from the bottom to where we started I could get ten runs a night. So being the hyperactive ADHD kid that I was, I was like I hate lines. Luge is the way to go. Ten runs over two all day long. So that’s kind of how I found luge. And it just became the most fun that I could have in the winter. It was the largest sledding hill you could possibly imagine. I still refer to luge as ultimate sledding. And I think for me personally luge kind of became my medicine. It was the only time where I was solely focused on a single task for this one minute and it felt so good. And continuing to grow up and evolve. Right. There is risk involved with luge. We are going really fast down a track. But it helped me build confidence with myself, pushing myself. Luge sleds we have more control, but there’s also more inherent risk because that sled can get out of control really fast so you’re constantly just building this, I don’t know, this confidence in yourself and challenging yourself and pushing yourself and going down the run and taking risks and you have to be fully committed to luge. And it’s one of the few places where my mind allowed me to do that and I will never, never look back on the injuries or crashes and think poorly of luge. It was the best life experience I could have. Luge has been the greatest teacher of my life and I love it. And I know I’m going out at the top of my game and I think that’s a really cool thing.
Well Chris when you say it’s been the greatest teacher in your life, I take it that’s not just on the luge track and when you’re competing.
Oh no, no, no. It’s taught me resilience, grit, how to deal with failure, the concept of failing forward. It’s taught me how to approach goal setting. It’s taught me a lot of things. Even though it’s like oh it’s just sledding at the end of the day. But it’s so much more than that. It’s challenging yourself. It’s putting yourself out there. One of my favorite quotes in life is like ‘you’re never prequalified to do hard things’ which is why you need to start before you’re ready. You learn as you act not as you sit around and wonder. And that’s kind of what luge has taught me. It’s not like get out of my comfort zone, but push my comfort zone, to push myself to try new things. And that is something that I’m going to have with me for the rest of my life. It’s taught me about cultures, meeting people around the world, that the world is really a small place. It’s just taught me so many different things that are invaluable and I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life.
You not only have been an athlete but you’ve also worked to promote the sport of luge. You served on the Federation of International Luge board. How important is it to you to not only have promoted the sport but to continue to support it and get athletes involved in luge?
One thing that I’ve come to understand in my career is that within the Olympic movement, within the U.S. Olympic-Paralympic committee, within national governing bodies one of the biggest stakeholders are the athletes. We’re the ones that sell the sport to the next generation. We’re the ones that the kids are watching. Athletes are essentially what’s going to cause the sport to grow or decline. Athletes need a voice at the table. We need to be there for the next generation. And I think sport is such an important thing for the world, for society. It not only connects people it teaches kids how to grow, how to have great role models especially when it comes to anti-doping. I think looking at Olympic athletes what makes us special is that kids can see that hard work has a direct correlation with success a lot of times. And not cheating, not taking all of these other steps is a really important thing to teach kids. So I think athletes are so important spreading a positive message and there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be involved in the decision making process because a lot of times what happens to athletes will either positively or negatively affect the next generation. And I don’t think organizations quite realize that. And so that’s been my one big goal in life is to leave this sport in a better place than I found it and spread awareness for the sport of luge. I think it’s an amazing sport. And honestly I just want people to go sledding, have fun, enjoy the winter, go outside. You don’t have to go 90 miles down an ice chute to enjoy the winter. You can pick up a sled and go 5 miles an hour. Kids love that. And that’s kind of what I want to spread.
So what overall is next for you?
I started a job a few months ago at a company called Bamboo HR. They’re in HR software. And honestly I’m really looking forward to a little bit of stability, not traveling so much. This summer I hit a million miles on United to put into perspective how much time I’ve spent away from home and family. So I’m looking to slow things down and focus on family.
Olympic luge medalist Chris Mazdzer officially retires after World Cup Luge competition this weekend in Lake Placid.