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Utah's Taylor Morris happy with 18th-place finish, while teammate makes Olympic luge history

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Even though Taylor Morris didn’t have to do anything but watch, the weight of the historic moment was almost unbearable.

“I was more nervous that run than anything in my entire life,” the South Jordan native said of watching teammate Chris Mazdzer become the first U.S. man to win an individual Olympic medal in the sport of luge with his silver-medal performance at the Alpensia Sliding Center Sunday night. “I know how hard he works, and how much it would mean to him to be able to get up on the podium and make history for USA luge.

"This is the first time any men’s single has been on the podium — ever. And so to be part of that, in a sense of being his friend and his teammate, you know, someone who can push him in certain boundaries of luge, it’s fun. We all build off of each other, and I think he’s just taken his game to another level.”

Morris reveled in the Olympic moment, then climbed into the stands to watch one of the most exciting and unpredictable luge races in history with his family at his side.

Graphic: Utah natives competing in the Pyeongchang Games

“I was up in the stands, and then I actually (went) back down onto the finish dock because I knew if Chris did succeed that I was going to be able to give him a hug,” said Morris, who finished in 18th place, achieving his own goal of making the top 20 in his first Olympic competition. “It’s such an incredible feeling. I’m so happy for him. I train with this kid every single day, and day in and day out, he’s an animal. And it’s paying off.”

Mazdzer wasn't just fighting history. He was struggling against his own mediocre season. The two-time Olympian, who came into the night ranked 16th in the world, hadn't earned a podium all season.

But surprises were the theme of the night.

Germany’s Felix Loch, who hoped to become the second man in the sport's history to win three Olympic gold medals, led heading into the final day of competition Sunday. Mazdzer was in fourth place, just .001 seconds away from third place after two runs.

Bingham High's Morris was in 23rd place heading into the third run Sunday night, but he had a goal to make the top 20 so he could earn a fourth run. He laid down the 13th best run of the third round, moving into 18th place, which began a series of shocking and thrilling runs that led to a podium that seemed to surprise even the men standing on it.

In Mazdzer's first run Sunday night, he set a new track record and moved into second place behind Loch.

As the fourth and final run began, Loch led the field, Mazdzer was second, and Austria’s David Gleirscher was third.

Morris, who'd talked with Mazdzer about the possibility of his situation the night before when neither of them could sleep, climbed into the stands to watch the thrilling finish unfold. "He sits down, he looks at me, and he's like, 'This is doable. I can do this,'" Morris said of their midnight conversation. "And I was like, 'You can absolutely do this, Chris. You're a stud.' I just gave him some words of encouragement. I didn't want to say anything too much or too little. Just as a friend said, 'You can do this, Chris. I believe in you, man. You're sliding great.'"

Gleirscher took the lead after his final run. Mazdzer followed him, but small mistakes in the bottom of the track put him in second place. Loch’s German teammate Johannes Ludwig had moved from fifth to third, and waited alongside Gleirscher and Mazdzer for what everyone expected to be a fourth-place finish.

Then Loch did what no one saw coming. The most consistent man in sliding suffered a bad start, followed by a massive mistake in the same curve that killed a number of Olympic dreams this weekend. When he came to a stop in the finish area, he was in fifth place.

How to watch the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang

While the podium erupted in celebration, Loch put his head in his hands. His father, also his coach, ran to him and embraced him. Even after the podium ceremony, the men who'd earned medals kept looking at each other in disbelief as they fielded questions about doing what no one could have predicted.

“I think the result of today, no one would expect that result,” said Gleirscher, who barely qualified for his country’s Olympic team and has never been on a podium at the World Cup level. “It will take some time to digest.”

Mazdzer kept shaking his head, and all three men grinned throughout their post-competition press conference. Gleirscher won with a combined time of 3:10.702, while Mazdzer was .026 seconds behind him at 3:10.728. Ludwig earned bronze with a 3:10.932 time.

“Oh, man that final trip down was a lot of fun actually,” Mazdzer said. “It’s weird. This is probably the race I was least nervous for. … I knew I could do it. And then I almost didn’t. … It was a blast. It didn’t feel as crazy as it probably looked.”

Gleirscher called it a "fairy tale” while Mazdzer was overcome with emotion.

“It’s still hard to realize what just happened,” Mazdzer said. “It’s crazy. … There are so many emotions. … Everything is the same until you come off that fourth run, and that’s what you’ve been working your entire life for.”

Morris said the moment was well-deserved, and it only enhanced his own memories of an Olympic trip he's been dreaming about since he was in elementary school.

“It’s been a long and hard (journey) that’s for sure,” Morris said. “I can hold my head up high knowing I went out there on the edge and didn’t have any regrets. I put it together today on the third and fourth run heads, and I’m really happy with the way that it went.”

He said even the mistakes he made in the first two runs will provide him with opportunities to learn and grow.

“It builds a little bit of mental resiliency and I’m just elated about the whole situation today, about how it went with Chris, and the way that I finished out. I’m so happy.”