A Russian Luger's Kind Gesture Helped American Mazdzer Out of a Slump and Onto the Podium

The luge silver medalist made American history weeks after hitting "rock bottom"

Chris Mazdzer is still in awe. Because he won a silver medal, yes, but also because of a kind gesture from an unlikely place that helped him get it.

The 29-year-old luger had been in a dark place just a few weeks before making American history with the medal he won in Pyeongchang, he said on "Megyn Kelly Today," feeling like his self-worth was tied up in results. It's something he'd been struggling with for years, but the luge community rallied around him, Mazdzer said.

"I had the entire world trying to help like find that speed. I even had a Russian friend offer me his sled, just to know how fast I could go on it," he said.

He said that it was an extremely rare gesture, given the technology involved in luge.

"For someone to give up that competitive advantage to a competitor, especially Russia-USA, that speaks volumes. That transcends everything between nations and it's all done through sports," Mazdzer said.

The international support helped him and the United States, as Mazdzer's silver medal was the nation's first medal ever in men's singles luge.

He hasn't identified the Russian competitor who helped him.

"I guess this goes against every U.S.-Russian stereotype ever," Mazdzer said, according to a report in USA Today.

It's notable that the Russian team's Olympic fortunes haven't been as rosy on the road to Pyeongchang. The country was banned from the Games over doping concerns, and those athletes who were allowed to compete are doing so as Olympic Athletes from Russia. 

USA Today reported that Mazdzer was in Latvia at the time of the offer and he gave the sled a test run there, but it was just too large for him.

The Associated Press reported that, during his slump, Mazdzer would tinker with his sled until 1 or 2 a.m. some nights, asking competitors if he could lay on their sleds and get ideas for what to do with his own.

"That was my turning point that I knew he would do this," USA Luge coach Bill Tavares said to AP. "Chris is one of the hardest-working, focused people that I know. In this sport, it takes so much. You need to relax and just let it go and he tries so hard it actually slows him down sometimes."

"You're gonna hit some really big rock-bottom lows but you just have to stay with it," Mazdzer said on the "Today" show. "I was not expecting to be where I am -- four weeks ago if you'd ask be I'd be like, 'no way.'"

But he told Megyn Kelly that he always tries to persevere through struggles like his slump: "I don't give up, try even harder ... I can't believe this is where the light at the end of the tunnel was."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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