‘Ultimate Sledding' – 9 Questions with Team USA’s Chris Mazdzer
Chris Mazdzer is a two-time Olympian who will once again be representing Team USA Luge at the 2018 winter games in PyeongChang. We had the opportunity to chat with Chris about his training, why he started using WHOOP, and what it’s like to slide down the ice at close to 90 miles per hour.
So Chris, why luge?
“I grew up in the northernmost part of New York, 45 minutes away from Lake Placid. We have some serious winters there. When I was little, my dad would always build sledding hills in our front yard. I think that’s when I got hooked. There was a program for kids ages 8-13 for bobsled and luge, I signed up as soon as I was old enough. For me, the issue with bobsled was you only got to drive half the time. Plus, the line was always longer and it had a much slower turnover. With luge, I could get a lot more runs in–it was ultimate sledding. It quickly became my passion in the winter time. When I was 12 years old, I was put on the development team. A year later, they saw something in me and took me to Europe when I was 13. I’ve been traveling the world ever since.”
What kind of athletic shape do you have to be in for luge?
“That’s probably the hardest thing to get across to people. When we’re going down the track, it really looks like we’re not doing much of anything. But that’s because we have such good control of our body movements, and if we do move a lot it messes up aerodynamics and it’s harder to control the sled. I’d say it takes 6-10 years of practice to be able to confidently go down a luge track.
Physically, we have to be in shape to pull the start–we use our hands to pull off handles and then we’re paddling on the ice to gain speed, so it’s an upper-body explosive movement. Even though we’re not running, it’s still very power based. Then once we’re on the track, it’s complete finesse.”
Tell us about the training you do.
“We have a mix of explosive training and coordination. It really encompasses a lot of variables and balances a lot of different factors. For example, you obviously need a strong upper body for the start, but if you’re too big and bulky on the sled you’re not going to be able to drive it well. I try to do a bit of everything. So much of the sport is mental and you have to have extremely fast reactions to difficult situations. If you think about what you need to do, it can already be too late, you have to rely on instincts. When you come out of corners and you’re an inch off the wall, you have to stay perfectly relaxed. If you tense up, that’s when the sled is going to get out of control. Reaction-time training is key.”
How do you improve your reaction time?
“In our start house in Lake Placid, we have a gate that opens up so we can practice getting quick starts. I also like to do a lot of different sports in addition to working out and what’s on our training regimen. I think it helps mentally to throw a variety of things at your body. Volleyball, soccer, mountain biking, riding a motorcycle, canyoneering, cliff jumping–I do everything. The more you do, the more you can improve how fast your body assess situations and reacts.”
What got you started on WHOOP?
“I’d played around with a few other wearable devices in the past, but this seemed a lot more encompassing. I really liked how WHOOP was based on Recovery rather than counting your steps and calories. As soon as I gave it a try, I loved it.”
What does WHOOP do for you?
“The scary thing about the device is that it knows me better than I know me. I travel a lot and there used to be so many times I’d get off the plane and mentally feel 100% the next day, but then I’d notice myself dragging in the weight room and not know why. With WHOOP, I can see when my Recovery is down. That’s the thing that amazes me the most, WHOOP knowing how ready to go I am each day and how hard I can push. It helps you listen to your body better and it’s great to have those quantifiable metrics on how you feel.”
Quick follow up, does it help with your sleep?
“It’s crazy how accurate WHOOP tracks sleep. Since I started wearing it I try to get to bed earlier and stay in bed longer. It’s made me more aware that I need to sleep more, which is obviously important.”
OK, we have to ask about this:
“That’s street luge. It’s a thing. We used to train on roads in the summertime, although what you see in that video takes it to a whole different level. We all train on the tracks with wheeled luge sleds when there’s no ice, but the roads are a different beast. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to film that. It was a lot of fun to learn and adapt to hairpin turns for the shoot, that’s not something we normally do in luge. It was a bit stressful too though.”
That looks terrifying. And so does luge in general. Aren’t you afraid?
“Sometimes I still am nervous. But I think having that little bit of nervousness is necessary, it keeps you on your edge. That’s another reason why this sport takes so long to get good at. It’s not terrifying, but it’s uneasy and it constantly makes you push yourself to learn new things. You also move up the track really slowly with luge, you don’t start at the top until you’re ready.
We have a lot of control on the sled, but when we get out of control it’s really bad. We become projectiles more so than a bobsled or skeleton. It’s a steep learning curve and it’s our shoulders that take the brunt of it. There’s definitely pain and bruises and ice burn that comes from moving up the track. Often it’s not a pleasant experience. Sometimes there are tracks that you just won’t get and you know it’s going to be a rough week.”
Last question–what’s your biggest athletic achievement so far, and what is your greatest goal going forward?
“Two years ago I finished third overall in the World Cup standings. That was a lot more special than one great race because it meant the entire season was a success. To be on the podium in PyeongChang, that’s the goal.”
Chris was officially named to the U.S. Team for the upcoming Olympics in December. From one WHOOP athlete to another: