Chris Mazdzer has used his runners to etch himself a place in history.
The 29-year-old won silver in singles luge on Sunday, becoming the first American man ever to medal in the event. His podium finish ends a drought that extends to the sport’s Olympic debut back in 1964.
Also on that podium were Austria’s David Gleirscher, who won gold in a shocker of his own, and bronze medalist Johannes Ludwig of Germany.
Noticeably absent from the medal ceremony: Felix Loch, the German powerhouse who won gold at the past two Winter Games. Loch had appeared well on his way to earning his third Olympic gold medal in a row — but a disastrous final run unraveled his bid for a three-peat, knocking him not only out of the top spot but also off the podium entirely.
Loch’s loss translated into big gains for Mazdzer and Gleirscher, who beat out the American by just over two hundredths of a second to become the first Austrian to win the event in five decades.
After the event Sunday, Mazdzer said his silver capped years of struggle.
“It’s 16 years in the making,” Mazdzer, a three-time Olympian, told NBC afterward. “I’ve had a rough last two years, and it just shows: Don’t ever give up. Whenever you lose, keep fighting.”
Indeed, his previous Olympic showings didn’t exactly augur this historic feat. Mazdzer finished both the 2010 Vancouver Games and the 2014 Sochi Games in 13th place.
Wearing a No. 13 bib this time around, Mazdzer set himself up in better position in Pyeongchang with a fifth-place standing after the opening run. But it was only with his second and third runs — which he finished second and first, respectively — that Mazdzer climbed the leader board. His solid final run then shored up his claim on silver.
NPR’s Melissa Block reports he leaped from his sled after that final run, vaulting “into the stands to hug his family and grab an American flag.”
The U.S. had already medaled in women’s singles luge — Erin Hamlin was the first to do so, winning bronze in 2014 — as well as doubles luge. Now that an American has earned a medal in men’s singles luge too, team spokesman Sandy Caligiore said Sunday they’ve got their sights set even higher.
“The men’s medal and then the gold medal, and then we’ll be a happy organization,” Caligiore said. “We like bronze, we like silver. We want gold!”
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