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The GFORCE Guide to... Luge

Added 09 Feb 2018 by GFORCE

The GFORCE Guide to…Luge

With the Winter Olympics kicking off this weekend in our latest GFORCE Guide to… we discover the sport of luge.

Not for the faint hearted, luge involves careering down an ice track on a small one or two person sled feet-first at high speed. And when we say high speed, we mean up to 85mph!

Though many are familiar with bobsledding - which involves teams sliding down an ice track in a bobsleigh with a steering mechanism - in luging there is no protection for the athlete apart from a helmet, and they rely solely on steering with their legs and shoulders without any brakes. This means the tiniest of errors can prove detrimental to a competitor. Perhaps this is why luge is the only sliding sport timed to one thousandth of a second.

By keeping their head low to minimise air resistance and adopting the aerodynamic feet-first position on the sled, a skilled luger remains relaxed and focused while sliding down the high-banked ice track. Lugers use their hands to get going and their feet to slow down by dragging them on the ice. Some like to visualise the course before they begin. The two main disciplines for luge are artificial track and natural track - artificial track luge being the fastest sledding sport.

Where does it come from?

We have Switzerland to thank for luge, which is where it was initiated as a sport. Though its beginnings hark back to the 16th century making it one of the oldest winter sports, it wasn’t until 300 years later that Swiss hoteliers built the first luge ice tracks for adrenaline-loving holiday makers. The word itself comes from the French word for ‘sledge’.

Olympic debut

In 1883 the first international luge race course took place in the Alpine town of Davos, Switzerland, which saw athletes speed down a 4km road to the village of Klosters. In 1955 the first luge World Championship was organised and nine years later, luge was introduced to the Winter Olympics at the 1964 Innsbruck Games in Austria. Better late than never! The Games invited male and female athletes to compete with both a men’s and women’s event - the same format that is followed today.

The East Germans were the team to catch, having won 15 of the 21 gold medals up for grabs between 1964 and 1988. The country has continued to dominate the sport, with Germany’s star luger Georg Hackl taking home three consecutive gold medals in 1994, 1998 and 2002. He is the only luger to have won medals at five consecutive Olympic Games in singles luge.

The highest position Great Britain achieved in luge was 14th in the doubles when Derek Prentice and Chris Dyason competed in 1980. Eyes will be on British luger AJ Rosen this year who will be competing in his third Games, aiming to beat his previous best of 16th.

2018 Winter Olympics

At the upcoming winter Olympic Games, which runs from 9 to 25 February in PyeongChang, South Korea, there will be four luge runs in the women’s and men’s events, two in the doubles and one in the relay. The athlete with the lowest aggregate time wins. The sport takes place on the same track as the bobsleigh and has done since 1976.

Learn to luge

If you have the need for speed on ice, you can learn to luge in the UK at the Chill Factor-e in Manchester which has a 60m luge facility. Check out the Great British Luge Association to find out more about this fascinating sport.

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