Sport guide – Luge: finding the right line at lightning speed with frightening risks

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Luge is the fastest of the sledding sports, with athletes taking the traditional sledging position – feet first – to extremes.

Flattening themselves into an aerodynamic position in a streamlined race suit, they reach speeds of around 140kph. Steering is performed by flexing the calves onto the sled runners to direct their line. Only those that follow the perfect line will contest the medals.

Sled racing has been practised for centuries in Scandinavia, but was first properly organised onto a track in St Moritz, Switzerland, in the late 19th century. Luge made its Olympic debut at the Innsbruck 1964 Olympic Winter Games and has featured at every Games since.

Athletes tend to come from nations that have a track handy: there have previously been just 16 venues where luge can take place – but in 2016 the 17th and newest facility opened at the Olympic Sliding Centre in PyeongChang. Constructed to the highest of standards (it cost around USD 110 million), the centre can accommodate 7,000 fans.

The format is straightforward: both in the men’s singles (10-11 February) and women’s singles (12-13 February), sliders put in four runs over two days. The fastest total times take the medals.

There is also the doubles event (14 February) – technically a mixed discipline, but almost always consisting of two men – which results in one of the most precarious-looking sights in sport: two humans balanced on top of a 25kg sliver of fibreglass and steel, going extremely fast.

Sochi 2014 featured a new event: the team relay. Comprising one male luger, one female, and one doubles pair, the first athlete hits a touch pad at the finish line, allowing their teammate at the top to start. It’s fun and dramatic – and all timed to the thousandth of a second.

Few sports are as dominated by one nation as much as luge. Germany have won by far the most Olympic medals in both the men’s (23 of 42 total, 10 of 14 golds), and women’s event (31 of 42 total, 10 of 14 golds). But look out for sliders from Russia, Canada, the United States and Italy to also contest the podium in the Republic of Korea.

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