USA loses medal in team luge relay in the blink of an eye

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.”

RELATED: US luger Emily Sweeney's final run at the 2018 Winter Olympics

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US luger Emily Sweeney's final run at the 2018 Winter Olympics
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US luger Emily Sweeney's final run at the 2018 Winter Olympics
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles Competition ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 13, 2018. Emily Sweeney of the U.S reacts after her run. REUTERS/Edgar Su
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 12: Emily Sweeney of USA slides during the Women's Singles Luge run 1 at Olympic Sliding Centre on February 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles Competition ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 12, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S in action. REUTERS/Edgar Su
US Emily Sweeney competes in the women's singles luge run 3 during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 13, 2018 in Pyeongchang. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 13: Emily Sweeney of the United States slides during the Luge Women's Singles run 3 on day four of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Olympic Sliding Centre on February 13, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Emily Sweeney of the US takes a corner in the women's luge singles training session at the Olympic Sliding Centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang on February 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mark Ralston (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles training ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S. crashes. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles training ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S. crashes. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles training ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S. leaves the track after crashing. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles training ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S. leaves the track after crashing. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Luge - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women's Singles competition - Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 13, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S. reacts after crashing. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
US Emily Sweeney celebrates after competing in the women's luge singles run 2 during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang. / AFP PHOTO / Mark Ralston (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
LAKE PLACID, NY - DECEMBER 16: Emily Sweeney looks on during the Ice Ball to honor the nominees to the USA Olympic team at the Conference Center at Lake Placid on December 16, 2017 in Lake Placid, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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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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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
 

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