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USA Luge medal bump?
April 13, 2018

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LAKE PLACID - The positive reaction to Chris Mazdzer's silver medal for USA Luge at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was instantaneous, and it still resonates in the North Country. Yet the full effects of this year's medal bump are still unknown.

When a national governing body such as USA Luge brings home medals from the Olympics, the organization typically receives a medal bump - in the form of media exposure, interest in the sport from young athletes and sponsorships. It happened in 2014 when Erin Hamlin brought home a bronze medal from the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And it's happening now with Mazdzer, who grew up in Saranac Lake and expects to compete in the 2022 games in Beijing, China.

This year's USA Luge Fantasy Camp, for example, saw more people attending. They had so many people sign up that two camps were offered last week instead of one.

"We always see a bump in fantasy camp during an Olympic year, and Chris Mazdzer's performance at the games certainly added to that bump," said Gordy Sheer, USA Luge manager of marketing and sponsorships. "We saw a lot of interest and a lot of traffic on the fantasy camp page."

Sheer, Mazdzer and Hamlin all have been a part of a medal bump. They each brought home a U.S. luge medal in their respective categories for the first time since the sport was added to the Olympic program in 1964. Sheer, riding with doubles partner Chris Thorpe, earned a silver medal at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, while teammates Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin brought home the bronze. In 2014, Hamlin was the first U.S. luger to win a medal in the women's singles event, and this year, Mazdzer was the first U.S. luger to win a medal in the men's singles event.

Medals are not just important to the pride of athletes, coaches, organizations and countries. In the U.S., where small NGBs such as USA Luge struggle to make ends meet so they can equip and train athletes to compete internationally, medals can help with the bottom line. They show sponsors that their support is justified.

"We are a performance-based organization," USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy wrote in an email from South Korea shortly after Mazdzer won his silver medal. "Our revenue model is contingent upon us performing well internationally. When we perform well, all of our stakeholders see a positive return on investment.

"We see it when we podium at our World Cups and World Championships. With the Olympics creating a bigger platform for our sport, medals won at the Games exponentially increase that ROI."

USA Luge can also use those medals to increase their media presence and attract new sponsors.

Mazdzer is taking on the job of USA Luge "poster child" with gusto, constantly traveling since the Sunday, Feb. 11 medal race to spread the good word of USA Luge. He left the Olympics briefly for a quick tour around the U.S. before returning to South Korea for the closing ceremony.

In addition to media appearances and visits to current sponsors, he rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Feb. 22, and on April 5, he threw out the first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game in Fenway Park with four Olympic gold medalists from the U.S. women's hockey team and two paralympic medalists.

"When Chris won the medal in Pyeongchang, it really gave us a tremendous amount of visibility to Chris, obviously, but also the sport, the organization and its sponsors," Sheer said. "It was a nice little pop for USA Luge. We were really proud of Chris and what he did, but as Chris has said, it takes a lot of people to get him to that stage and he's done a great job of recognizing everyone."

Yet the media bump has not yet attracted new sponsors for USA Luge, according to Sheer.

"Frankly, we haven't really had a chance to do a whole lot of aggressive selling, but we're certainly out there and always looking around," he said.

Three of the team's biggest sponsors - Norton, Team Worldwide and U.S. Venture - renewed their sponsorships for another four years when the Olympic team was announced in December. Sheer said he expects more four-year renewals to be announced soon.

A medal bump can also attract young men and women to a sport. Such was the case Monday, Feb. 12 when USA Luge Junior National Team Coach Fred Zimny arrived at the team's headquarters on Church Street in Lake Placid. He was one of a few people at USA Luge who did not travel to South Korea for the Olympics and was watching the women's luge races on TV in the conference room that morning when he told the News that Mazdzer's silver medal had already generated some interest among young athletes in the form of emails.

"It's only going to help us," Zimny said Feb. 12 about Mazdzer's medal. "Our whole goal is to get as many new athletes as possible involved in the sport, and the more the word 'luge' gets out there, the more kids are going to learn about luge and think, 'Man, that's cool.' They see it on TV, and 99 percent of the kids think that's really cool and want to get on a luge sled."

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