PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Blink your eyes once.
The length of time it took you to blink — about one-tenth of a second — is the distance between Team USA’s luge relay going home with a medal and going home with empty hands. A blink of an eye, and then four years of waiting.
“A tenth of a second is so close after three miles of racing,” said Chris Mazdzer, the mens’ individual silver medalist and the second member of the team to slide in the relay.
The United States had a fighting chance. More than a fighting chance, in fact; the four teammates stood at the top of the leaderboard with just three teams remaining. But then they could only watch with concern, then agony, then despair as Canada, Austria, and finally Germany passed them by. At that point, there was nothing left to do but sigh and vow to return.
“I felt pretty good [about Team USA’s time holding up for a medal]. The thing about this track, there’s a lot of variability,” Mazdzer said. “But Canada, Germany, Austria came down with three awesome runs. That’s something that’s really hard to beat. We were so close.”
In the team relay event, four riders compete: an individual woman and man, followed by a two-man team. Each rider tags in the next sled in line by slapping a large finish pad hanging over the finish line. It’s a key component of the race; missing the pad means an instant disqualification. The pressure on each member of the team to perform at a superhuman level is beyond intense.
“It’s pretty stressful [to hit the pad],” said Jayson Terdiman, noting that other tracks have a bit of distance between the final turn and the pad, which PyeongChang doesn’t. “Here you have to do almost the two simultaneously, exit and hit the pad.”
Britcher, who wobbled slightly on her run, seemed to be taking the loss the hardest. “It was not great,” she said of her run. “I feel really bad for my teammates, but that’s racing. Mistakes happen. You’ve got to risk it.”
“We’re all proud of her,” Matt Mortensen said, adding, “The team as a whole did what they could to put forth their best finish. All you can do is your best.”
“Let’s just fast-forward [to 2022],” Mazdzer said. “We want the track tomorrow. I don’t even know what the track looks like, but we want to do it.”
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