KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - On a Saturday evening when the track record was broken on the first three runs of the Sochi Olympic men's singles luge competition, Americans Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and Aidan Kelly stood in 13th, 23rd and 26th place, respectively, with the final two heats being contested Sunday under the lights at the Sanki Sliding Center.
Mazdzer, a Saranac Lake resident competing in his second Olympics, finished with runs of 52.744 and 52.643 seconds for a total time of 1:45.387 seconds. The 25-year-old, who placed 13th at 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, was 1.238 seconds back of leader Felix Loch of Germany, who is the defending Olympic champion.
"The first run went very well. The first run was the best here I've had all week,"said Mazdzer, who had his family cheering him on at the finish during the second run. "I'm extremely happy with that. The second run (I) just made a couple small mistakes. I did curve nine a little too good off the exit, that caused me to go late into 10, and I really think that cost me all my time.
"I haven't really seen splits, but I imagine I lost in the bottom section because I had a big wave in curve 10. But that's what happens here," Mazdzer continued. "Sometimes you make different decisions going down and you just have to adjust. This Olympic race should be all or nothing, so I think I'll go a little less conservative than I did today."
West, a first-time Olympian from Ridgefield, Conn., got his first Olympics off to a tough beginning. Heading down the start ramp on the first run, he caromed off a wall, which cost him time on the track that has three uphill sections. The 18-year-old finished the first heat in 53.142, and despite bettering the effort with a second run of 52.966, he dropped back two spots into 23rd. West finished with a 1:46.108 total, which was 1.959 behind the top time.
"Honestly, the runs were nowhere near I wanted them to be, but that just gives me determination to do better tomorrow." said West, who is the youngest U.S. slider to compete in men's singles luge at the Olympics. "I've got some time to make up so it will be fun tomorrow.
"It's pretty easy to flush out," West said about overcoming his start-ramp mistake. "You're going 80 miles an hour, you got 17 curves ahead of you, you just got to let it get by you. That's part of the sport. You got to have short-term memory."
Kelly, a 19-year-old from West Islip, N.Y., put down runs of 53.275 and 53.192 for a 1:46.467 total in his first trip to the Olympics.
"It was pretty awesome," Kelly said, describing the experience of debuting in the Olympics. "The first run was OK, but it wasn't great. I knew I had a lot of time to make up. I knew I was tense; I mean, it's the Olympics. I didn't want anything to go wrong, so that second run I tried to let if fly a little a bit more, have fewer corrections, relax and have fun. It's first-run jitters for sure. I knew I left a lot of time on that track today, and I'll try to make it up tomorrow."
Loch won the World Cup points race this season, despite skipping the final race of the nine-stop tour to prepare for the Olympics. He won his last three races heading into Sochi, and at least for the first day, the move paid off. Loch put down the second-fastest run in the first heat, a 52.185 result, and then was the quickest down the track the next time, finishing in 51.964 for a combined 1:44.149 total. He was .294 seconds ahead of Russia's Albert Demchenko, who started his record-setting seventh Olympics by setting a new track mark on home ice during the opening run with a 52.170 finish. The 42-year-old followed with a second-best result of 52.273 in the next run to hold onto the second position with a 1:44.443 total.
A legend of the sport, Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, was in third place with runs of 52.506 and 52.3878 and a 1:44.893 total. The 40-year-old, competing in his sixth Olympics, stood .744 off Loch's pace.
The men's singles Olympic field includes 39 racers.