Luge is a Winter Olympics sport. It is similar to the bobsleigh, but faster and more dangerous. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a Georgian athlete was killed in practice after several complaints that the track was too fast.

History

Luge sled
Luge sled, with steel runners removed.
Young luger
A young luger on the start ramp at the Utah Olympic track.

The very practical use of sleds is ancient and widespread. The first recorded sled races took place in Norway sometime during the 15th century.

The sport of luge, like the skeleton and the bobsleigh, originated in the health-spa town of St Moritz, Switzerland, in the mid-to-late 19th century, through the endeavours of hotel entrepreneur Caspar Badrutt. Badrutt successfully sold the idea of winter resorting, as well as rooms with food, drink, and activities. His more adventurous English guests began adapting delivery boys' sleds for recreation, which led to collisions with pedestrians as they sped down the lanes and alleys of the village.

The first organized meeting of the sport took place in 1883 in Switzerland. In 1913, the Internationale Schlittensportverband or International Sled Sports Federation was founded in Dresden, Germany. This body governed the sport until 1935, when it was incorporated in the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT, International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation). After it had been decided that luge would replace the sport of skeleton at the Olympic Games, the first World Championships in the sport were held in 1955 in Oslo (Norway). In 1957, the Fédération Internationale de Luge de Course (FIL, International Luge Federation) was founded. Luge events were first included in the Olympic Winter Games in 1964.

Americans were slow to adopt the sport of luge. The first luge run in North America was built at Lolo Hot Springs, Montana, in 1965. Although the United States competed in every Olympic luge event from 1964 through 1976, it was not until 1979 that the United States Luge Association was founded. The first artificial American track was completed in that year for use in the 1980 XIII Winter Olympic Games at Lake Placid, New York. Since that time the United States luge program has greatly improved. A second artificial track was constructed near Park City, Utah, for the 2002 XIX Olympic Winter Games at Salt Lake City.

Artificial tracks

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-C0223-0007-003, Friedrichroda, Deutsche Meisterschaften, Rennrodeln
German luger Thomas Köhler in 1964
Mortensen and Griffall
Matt Mortensen (top) and Preston Griffall (bottom) are clocked at 80 miles per hour on a run at Sanki Sliding Centre in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Utah Olympic track
Curves 11 and 12 on the Utah Olympic track near Park City, Utah.

Artificial luge tracks have specially designed and constructed banked curves plus walled-in straights. Most tracks are artificially refrigerated, but artificial tracks without artificial cooling also exist (for example, in St. Moritz). Tracks tend to be very smooth.

The athletes ride in a flat, aerodynamic position on the sled, keeping their heads low to minimize air resistance. They steer the sled mainly with their calves by applying pressure on the runners—right calf to turn left, left calf to turn right. It takes a precise mix of shifting body weight, applying pressure with calves and rolling the shoulders. There are also handles for minor adjustments. A successful luger maintains complete concentration and relaxation on the sled while traveling at high speeds. Most lugers "visualize" the course in their minds before sliding. Fastest times result from following the perfect "line" down the track. Any slight error, such as brush against the wall, costs time. Track conditions are also important. Softer ice tends to slow speeds, while harder ice tends to lead to faster times. Lugers race at speeds averaging 120–145 km/h (75–90 mph) around high banked curves while experiencing a centripetal acceleration of up to 5g. Men's Singles have their start locations near where the bobsled and skeleton competitors start at most tracks, while both the Doubles and Women's Singles competition have their starthouse located farther down the track. Artificial track luge is the fastest and most agile sledding sport.

Natural track luge

Natural tracks are adapted from existing mountain roads and paths. Artificially banked curves are not permitted. The track's surface should be horizontal. They are naturally iced. Tracks can get rough from the braking and steering action. Athletes use a steering rein and drag their hands and use their legs in order to drive around the tight flat corners. Braking is often required in front of curves and is accomplished by the use of spikes built on the bottom of the shoes.

Most of the tracks are situated in Austria and Italy, with others in Germany, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Canada, Switzerland, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Bulgaria, Romania, New Zealand and the United States. The Upper Peninsula Luge Club in Negaunee, Michigan, is home to one of only five lighted natural track luge runs in the world, and the only natural track in the United States. The over 800 meter (half-mile) track features 29 curves along its 88-meter (289 ft) vertical drop. The club hosts international luge events and offers luge instruction to the public during the winter months.

World championships have been held since 1979 while European championships have been held since 1970.

Events

There are four luge disciplines.

  • Men's singles
  • Doubles (open to both genders)
  • Women's singles
  • Team relay (Olympic discipline starting in 2014)

These are further broken into several age classes - multiple youth and junior classes that cover the range of age 7–20, and general class (ages 21 and older). Older competitors may enjoy the sport in masters (age 30–50), and senior masters (age 51+) classes. In a team relay competition, one man, one woman and a doubles pair form a team. A touchpad at the bottom of the run is touched by a competitor signaling a teammate at the top of the run to start.

Rules and procedures for races are very precise:

  • A drawing is held to determine start order for the race. Athletes are assigned a number which is displayed on a bib. During major national and international events, men's singles consists of four runs. Women's singles and doubles competitions consist of two runs. The cumulative time of all runs is used to determine finish order. In all three events, the start order after the first run is determined by the outcome of the previous run, with the last-place slider sliding first, the next-to-last place slider sliding second, and so forth, with the leader of the previous run sliding last.
  • Physical measurements of the sled are taken, and the temperature of the sled's steel blades is checked and may not be more than 5 °C above that of a previously established control temperature. Additionally, for artificial track races, the athlete must first be weighed. This is to determine whether the athlete is entitled to carry extra weight on their body while sliding. Men may use additional weight amounting to 75% of the difference between body weight and a base weight of 90 kg. Women may use additional weight amounting to 50% of the difference between body weight and a base weight of 70 kg. Doubles athletes may use additional weight amounting to 50% of the difference between body weight and a base weight of 90 kg. Additional weight is not allowed if the body weight of the front person and back person together exceeds 180 kg. If one of the partners weighs more than 90 kg, the weight exceeding the 90 kg mark is added to the lighter partner. If there should still be a difference between the partner’s weight and the 90 kg mark, the difference can be compensated according to an official weight table. Between runs, athletes are randomly selected for additional weight checks. Before each run, the sled (with the athlete, for artificial track races) is weighed at the start ramp.
  • Once an athlete is on their sled, they are audibly notified that the track is clear. At this point, a tone sounds and the athlete has thirty seconds to begin their run. A run becomes official when an athlete and their sled, in contact with one another, crosses the finish line. If an athlete and sled are not within contact of one another, the athlete is disqualified from further competition. Disqualifications may also take place for any violation of rules and regulations. Certain disqualifications may be appealed.

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