MEN'S SINGLES, FIRST AND SECOND RUNS
Imagine zooming down the world’s fastest, slipperiest slide at 80 miles an hour. Except the slide is a mile of sharp turns, stiff sidewalls, and steep slopes, and you’re sitting atop a 50-pound sled, and you have to steer with your calves and shoulders, and oh yeah, you have to shave .006 of a second off the last man if you still want to stay in medal contention.
Kids, don’t try this at home.
Professional lugers from across the globe, however, are about to attempt something fairly similar at the 2022 Winter Olympics. The most elite athletes in their sport, the very best will traverse the entire course at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre in just under a minute. The track is 1615 meters long and contains 16 curves.
The first luge event at these Games: men’s singles, first and second runs.
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Team USA has three sliders competing on Saturday: Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West, and Jonny Gustafson. The reigning silver medalist from the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Mazdzer is about to compete in his fourth Games. His success four years ago shocked the luge world: Mazdzer entered the competition ranked world No. 18, but became the first American (and first non-European) since the sport’s 1964 introduction to earn a medal in men’s singles.
Though he intended to add a doubles medal to his collection at these Games, Mazdzer faced a serious setback when he broke his foot in September. He’s competed as he’s recovered, to lukewarm results: Mazdzer squeaked into the last of three U.S. singles berths, and completely missed out on a doubles spot.
Gustafson, a 24-year-old who hails from Massena, New York, will mark his first Olympic appearance at the 2022 Games. Now that he’s landed on the other side of the world, he’s finally realized the significance of what he’s accomplished: “Getting into the room [at the Athletes’ Village and getting the gear and everything, it all kind of hit me at once,” he told Team USA.
West, only two years older than Gustafson, enters his third Games. He qualified for the Sochi 2014 Olympics at only 18 years old, then finished in 22nd place. West later placed 26th at PyeongChang 2018.
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The most obvious pick to win gold: Germany’s Johannes Ludwig, who topped the 2021-22 Luge World Cup standings. Ludwig earned singles bronze and team relay gold at the 2018 Olympics, and singles silver at the 2021 World Championships. Perhaps most indicative of a place on the podium this year, Ludwig won on the Yanqing course during the first of nine World Cup races of the 2021-22 season.
Ludwig’s compatriot, Felix Loch, should also show strong results. He placed second at three of nine World Cup events, including the "test" run on the Yanqing course. What’s more, Loch is a two-time Olympic gold medalist – winning at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. He finished fifth at PyeongChang 2018.
Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl could go neck-and-neck with Loch. He placed second in the luge singles standings this past year, and won the 2022 European Championships. Kindl’s three Olympic results have been unfortunately consistent, however: ninth place in 2010, 2014, and 2018. Fourth time's the charm?
The first two heats of the men’s singles competition begin Saturday, February 5th at 6:10 a.m. ET. Sign up to stream every event at the 2022 Winter Olympics LIVE on Peacock. Users can also authenticate via TV Everywhere to stream events in the NBC Sports app or on NBCOlympics.com (site link points to event stream).
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