The GSB Interview: Chris Mazdzer, US Olympic Medal-winning Luger & Eco-Athlete

Chris Mazdzer is a true pioneer.

He became the first American male to win an Olympic medal in Single’s luge when he took home silver at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games. And he is leading a burgeoning movement among world class lugers to engage fans on the climate change fight.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Mazdzer about his work on the luge track and as an environmental activist.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Chris, before we get into your very important work with your fellow lugers on the environment and on climate, I’d like to know how you got into the sport in the first place.

Chris Mazdzer: Thanks, Lew. So I grew up in Peru, New York near Lake Placid…

GSB: …Site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice” — “Do you believe in miracles?? YES!!!!” — and one of the few places in the U.S. with a bobsled/luge run.

Chris: That would be the place. I was exposed to luge at eight years old and it was natural for me. I loved sledding — would go sledding through apple orchards for hours. Luge was like ultimate sledding for me. Anyway, I showed some talent for it at a young age. I was on a development team when I was 12; at 13, I showed enough promise that I was picked for a junior team that went to Europe for a competition.

GSB: Sliding down a sheet of ice on your back, with no protection. Yikes! I guess when you’re young, you’re more likely to be fearless, right? How come you picked luge over bobsled?

Chris: First of all there were many more kids bobsledding so there was a long line and not as many runs. Plus you’re only driving 50 percent of the time — that’s really where the action is. And luge was just SO MUCH FUN! It’s as simple as this: two runs with bobsled or ten with luge. Anyways, when I was 17, I was having a breakout season and tried out for the Olympic team for the 2006 Torino Games. I missed the last spot by 0.161 seconds total over three runs; lost out to my roommate.

GSB: You must’ve been devastated…

Chris: …Disappointed but not at all devastated. It gave me motivation and the confidence to really believe, “Hey, I can do this!” So I made the team in 2010, finishing 13th in Vancouver. Same thing happened in 2014 in Sochi. Finally, I broke through last year in Pyeongchang, winning silver

GSB …In the process, becoming the first American male luger to win a medal of any kind in singles. Congratulations! Do you compete in doubles?

 

Chris Mazdzer

Chris Mazdzer (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 

Chris: Thank you, Lew. I did doubles in juniors but ended up specializing in singles, until now that is. My goal is to give the Olympics one more shot in Beijing in 2022, both in singles and for the first time in doubles.

GSB: How about medaling in both? Not to put any pressure on you or anything like that! OK, now pivoting to the environment. How did you get involved?

Chris: I’m 30 years-old. Growing up in the Adirondacks and being involved in winter sports, I’ve seen changes to our winters just in the time that I’ve been active. From bigger thaws to more rain during winter when it would normally snow. But it’s not just in winter. I travel a lot — I was in Indonesia and saw massive amounts of plastic on the beaches, in the oceans. I live in Salt Lake City these days, and the air quality is really, really bad. I don’t need the science to tell me — it’s clear, the climate is changing, the environment is worsening and it is humans that are helping to cause these adverse effects. And studying the science only confirms this. Without a doubt.

GSB: So what did you do, what are you doing to have an impact?

Chris: Well, I started out looking to offset the carbon emissions for which I’m responsible from all my flights. But, because I fly over 150,000 miles per year, that becomes quite costly. So I try to offset at least half for now. But then I became an athlete member on the International Luge Federation (FIL), sitting on a lot of committees. And I realized this is where I could have an impact! We’re starting small, working to have reusable cups at major competitions. But then I saw a video featuring several skiers at the World Championships in Finland, talking about why they love winter and why it’s important to take action on climate to protect it. I thought to myself, ‘We could do something similar.’ People don’t believe politicians; they don’t believe scientists. Who do they trust? Their peers and athletes! Scary but true: They trust athletes more than scientists. Thing is, athletes generally don’t engage on climate. And so I aimed to change that, at least with lugers.

GSB: You’ve put yourself on the hot seat, Chris: Qualify for the Olympics and getting athletes — in this case — lugers to care about and talk about climate. How are you doing the latter?

Chris: Well, I started in January by putting together a seminar for lugers competing at the 2019 World Championships in Winterberg, Germany. I was able to secure funding from one of my personal sponsors and brought in an expert and amazing speaker, Michael Pedersen of M Inc., a leader in sport governance. Tragically and unbelievably, Michael passed away suddenly a few weeks after our event due to a heart attack. He was 43.

GSB: I heard about that. What a tragic, unfathomable loss.

Chris: It’s still hard to believe. And his presentation to our group was incredible. He shared that athletes are in a unique position, with a powerful megaphone. He showed videos of people who’ve stood up and spoken up on a variety of issues, including climate, including Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish girl who recently was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for starting what has virally become a global student “climate strike” movement.. He did not focus on the science — the athletes are already on board there — but rather the need to use our platform to talk about the environment, whether it be climate, plastic ocean waste, pollution, etc.

 

Michael Pedersen

The late Michael Pedersen (Photo credit: M Inc.)

 

GSB: How did the lugers react and how many showed up?

Chris: Michael did such a great job — they really bought in. We had 15 lugers there. It was not as many as we would’ve liked but it was World Championship Week, the guys had to train, had media requirements so it was tough to get a bigger group. And it was a first time, so we learned a lot and am confident we’ll do better going forward.

GSB: How did you do on the track in Winterberg?

Chris: I only competed in doubles and doubles sprint this year due to a neck injury I sustained earlier in the week.  My partner Jayson Terdiman and I finished fifth in the Doubles sprint and eleventh in Doubles. Being it was our first year together I felt that we did we really well.

GSB: Good to hear. What else are you working on, sustainability-wise?

Chris: I’m working on the single use plastic issue among athletes and also with the IOC to see how they can help athletes reduce their carbon footprints. It’s a bigger issue than you might think — we get killed by some critics. Because of going from event to event all over the world, my carbon footprint is 10 to 15 times that of the average American. I think that finding creative ways to partner with the IOC, FIL and sponsors to help fund the offsetting of athlete travel-related emissions will allow athletes to stand on firmer ground when discussing this important topic.

 

Luge - Winter Olympics Day 1

Chris Mazdzer navigates Turn 14 at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: USA Luge)

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Formula-E Is a Hit In Brooklyn; D.C.’s New Audi Field Goes Green via Green Bonds; Study Shows Winter Sports Fans Support Athlete Engagement on Climate Change

Here is a GSB News & Notes column for your mid-summer reading pleasure: Formula-E, the all-electric vehicle racing circuit, came to New York City (Red Hook, Brooklyn, to be exact) for the first time ever with two races over the weekend. Audi Field, the future home of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, will open with both a solar array and stormwater storage that was funded in part by an innovative, DC-based green bond program. And a small research study conducted at the 2017 Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland this February demonstrated that fans are very receptive to climate change statements from professional skiers.

 

FORMULA-E A HIT IN BROOKLYN

The Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn is not normally associated with great New York City sporting events. There are no stadiums nor arenas nearby. Subways are nowhere to be found.

But this weekend, the quiet if increasingly hip waterfront section of town was quiet no more as its streets played host to the first-ever automobile road race in New York City history—and it happened to be one that featured only electric vehicles (EVs).

England’s Sam Bird won both rounds of the Qualcomm New York City ePrix, the ninth and 10th rounds of Formula-E’s 2016-17 season on Saturday and Sunday. Bird drives for DS Virgin Racing, owned by sustainable business innovator Sir Richard Branson. Formula-E, now nearing the end of its third campaign, is the world’s first and only all-EV racing series.

 

Formula E Bird 2nd Steven Tee:LAT Images:FIA Formula E via Getty Images

Sam Bird, driving in the red car on the left, starts off in second place in the Qualcomm New York City ePrix on Saturday in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Steven Tee/LAT Images/FIA Formula E via Getty Images)

 

Formula-E Branson Bird Stephane Sarrazin

But while Bird (c) started in second, he finished in first in both the Saturday and Sunday legs, earning a Champagne Shower from Sir Richard Branson (l) and DS Virgin Racing teammate Stéphane Sarrazin. (Photo credit: Kevin Hagen, Getty Images)

 

While exact attendance figures have not been released, the Associated Press reported that “thousands attended thraces, packing two metal grandstands overlooking the track…Organizers ran shuttle buses from Barclays Center to the race site about three miles away. There were also ride-share stations, a bicycle valet and water taxis and ferries from Manhattan.”

And, according to a CNN.com story by Matthew Knight, Brooklyn and Formula-E share an understandable affinity for renewable energy: “Formula-E [didn’t provide] too much of a drain on local electrical supplies during its visit — all the race cars [were] charged using carbon-neutral glycerine generators provided by British firm Aquafuel.”

New York City’s entrance into EV road racing adds another top tier metropolis to Formula-E’s already impressive roster, which includes Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Paris and Montreal, host of the season finale at the end of this month.

 

AUDI FIELD TO SPORT SOLAR, STORMWATER STORAGE, FINANCED BY GREEN BOND

Audi Field, the new home of Major League Soccer’s (MLS’) D.C. United that’s set to open next year, will be on the forefront of green stadium design and performance:

  • An 884 kW solar array, installed by local vendor New Columbia Solar, will be situated on the stadium’s canopy and in other areas of the site.
  • There will storage for more than 55,000 cubic feet of stormwater on site through green roofs, bio-retention areas, and infiltration basins.
  • Energy and water efficient technologies will be employed throughout the stadium.

 

Audi Field

Artist’s rendering of Audi Field, the new home of D.C. United (Credit: D.C United)

 

According to a story by Jennifer Hermes in the July 10 issue of Environmental Leaderthe measures described above “are being funded through the [capital district’s Department of Energy and Environment’s] D.C. PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program’s green financing solution, which operates through a public-private partnership, allowing local lenders to fund environmentally beneficial projects at no cost to taxpayers.” The $25 million deal, done through a relationship with locally-based EagleBank, is the nation’s largest single PACE note issued to date, according to D.C. United.

Per Hermes, PACE’s funding will also include resources for “high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, LED field lighting, additional building insulation, and low-flow water fixtures.” D.C. PACE asserts these measures will result in a 25% reduction in energy use and will reduce emissions by 820 metric tons of CO2 annually, saving the club an estimated $125,000 annually on utility bills.

Writing in the July 6 issue of CurbedPatrick Sisson noted that, in addition to PACE’s clean energy deal, the project also includes a $95 million loan from Goldman Sachs.

While public financing of stadiums and arenas has, in the main, not proven to be a good deal for taxpayers, perhaps Audi Field’s green bonds approach will provide an innovative exception—as well as become a model for other stadiums and cities. Writes Sisson: “Funding these types of designs or retrofits saves owners money, may prolong the useful life of an existing stadium, helps cities cut emissions, and sets an example for other projects in the community (In less than two years, the D.C. PACE program has provided $30 million in private capital for projects including small businesses, affordable multifamily housing, and a charter school).”

While D.C. United’s colors are red and black, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has bought in to the club’s greenness, saying in a statement that the stadium will boost local economic development and create good green jobs for District workers, “all without costing DC government a cent.”

 

RESEARCH SHOWS SKI FANS REACT POSITIVELY TO CLIMATE CHANGE STATEMENTS FROM ATHLETES

The sample size was very small, so the conclusions drawn can only be directional rather than definitive.

But.

Research conducted in February by M Inc., in collaboration with Protect Our Winters Finland, at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland demonstrated that sports fans—at least a small sample of Nordic skiing fans in Europe— welcome climate change messaging from athletes.

A group of athletes who took part in the Championships gave video statements to their fans as to 1) why it is important to care about climate change and, 2) how we all can help in the climate change fight by changing a few specific behaviors. 44 spectators, chosen at random, were asked to view this 45-second edited video athlete statement and fill in a short questionnaire to measure what they thought of it.

 

 

The study’s conclusion?

Fans at the Championships were very receptive to climate change statements from pro skiers – across age, gender, nationality and whether they ski themselves or not. Fans also said that they felt much more motivated to change some of their behavior in support of the climate change fight (8.12 average on a scale of 1-10).

When asked, in an open-ended question, what they liked the most about the video statement, 51 per cent of the fans mentioned that professional athletes were giving the statement. Some of these fans also emphasized that professional athletes were showing their passion about the issue, that they formed an international mix and that it was a positive message.

GreenSportsBlog’s conclusion?

The Green-Sports world needs to fund and conduct more research, among a wide cross section of sports fans, on fan attitudes, in North America, Europe and beyond, towards environmental issues, including climate change. The studies must consist of fans who go to sports events and, this is important, the much larger group of fans who consume sports on TV, online, radio and newspapers. In fact, these studies need to be conducted every 1-2 years to see how fans’ awareness of, and attitudes towards green-sports are changing over time.

The only major, quantifiable study that I know of was conducted on North American sports fans (defined as people who attend at least two sports events per year) by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in 2014 and funded by the Green Sports Alliance. In research terms, that’s ancient history. And, while the M Inc. study is helpful, the small sample size means that the takeaways have to taken with a grain of salt.

 


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