Yesterday we talked about the skeleton event at the forthcoming Winter Olympics to be held in Whistler, Vancouver, Canada and today we turn our attention to an extreme sport that is closely related to skeleton – the luge.
In luge – the French word for “sled” – racers begin by sitting on open fibreglass sleds. Pulling on fixed handles in the ice, they burst out of the start. After this explosive start, they use spiked gloves on the ice surface for extra acceleration before lying down on their backs, feet stretched out in front of them, heads back to be as aerodynamic as possible. Luge racers steer using their legs and shoulders, and brake by sitting up, putting their feet down and pulling up on the sled runners.
Therefore the fundamental difference between skeleton and luge is that the skeleton pilots go down the track head first lying on their stomachs whereas the luge pilots are feet first lying on their back. Which is crazier we are not sure – but a similarity would appear to be that you can see very little be it luge or skeleton.
Luge races have grown considerably faster with refrigerated luge tracks and aerodynamic equipment, so that speeds now regularly reach 140 kilometres an hour or more and G-forces reach over 5G.
The singles events consist of four heats over two days. The individual with the lowest combined time over the four runs wins. Men and women compete on the same track, but the women and doubles begin further down the course. The four-run format is unique to the Olympic Winter Games and designed to reward consistency, endurance and ability to withstand pressure – particularly on the second day.
The doubles event consists of two runs over one day, with the fastest total time determining the winner. All events in luge are timed to the thousandth of a second.
Two athletes — Peter Minsch of Switzerland and George Robertson of Australia — who in February 1883 instigated what was called “The Great International Sled Race”. Their time: 9 minutes and 15 seconds, to slide down a four kilometre track joining the Swiss villages of Klosters and Davos was nothing very special but that didn’t matter – it was the idea that mattered. But it was not until 1964 that luge for men, women and doubles made its Olympic debut at the Games in Innsbruck.
The action kicks off right at the beginning of the games with the men’s singles competition being held over the 13th and 14th Feb. Then it is the turn of the girls who race over the 15th and 16th of Feb – and finally the doubles who compete on Feb 17th.
The favourites for medals in the luge are the Germans who have dominated the event for the last 10 years and in all probability they have a very good chance of winning again. But strong competition usually comes from Austria, Italy, Russia and the USA but with home advantage see what the 2010 Olympics Luge Coach Wolfgang Staudinger says about the Luge Canada team’s chances at the Vancouver 2010 Games. Thanks RayVanEng for the video.