A Luge is a small one- or two-person sled on which one sleds supine(face up) and feet-first. Steering is done by flexing the sled’s runners with the calf of each leg or exerting opposite shoulder pressure to the seat. Racing sleds weigh 21-25 kilograms (46-55 lbs.) for singles and 25-30 kilograms (55-66 lbs.) for doubles. Luge is also the name of an Olympic sport. Of the three Olympic sliding sports, which include bobsleigh and skeleton, luge is the fastest and most dangerous. Lugers can reach speeds of 140 km per hour (87 mph). The Guinness World Record is held by Tony Benshoof of the United States who achieved a speed of 139.9 km per hour (86.93 mph). One athlete, Manuel Pfister of Austria, reached a top speed of 154 km per hour (95.69 mph) on the track in Whistler, Canada prior to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Lugers compete against a timer and are timed to a thousandth of a second, making luge one of the most precisely timed sports in the world. The first recorded use of the term “luge” is 1905, from the Savoy/Swiss dialect of French “luge” meaning “small coasting sled”, and is possibly from a Gaulish word with the same root as English sled.
There are four luge disciplines:
- Men’s singles
- Men’s doubles
- Women’s singles
- Team Relay (Olympic discipline starting in 2014)
These are further broken into several age classes which include novice (ages 7-10), youth (ages 11-14), junior (ages 15-20), and general (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. Prior to a race the athlete must be weighed. This is to determine if 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. 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. Between runs athletes are randomly selected for additional weight checks. Before each run the athlete and his or her sled are weighed at the start ramp. 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. 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.
Luge is one of the oldest winter sports which at its grass roots level of tobogganing down a snowy hillside has mass participation in the UK, indeed the Great Britain Luge Association (GBLA) came out of the British Racing Tobogganing Association. The first recorded sled races took place in Norway sometime during the 15th century. The sport of luge, as with the other ice sliding sports the skeleton and the bobsleigh, originated in St Moritz in the mid-to-late 19th century. The first organised meeting of the sport took place in 1883 in Switzerland. In 1913, the Internationale Schlittensportverband or International Sled Sports Federation was founded in Germany. This body governed the sport until 1935, when it was incorporated in the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT, International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation). the first Luge World Championships were held in Oslo (Norway) in 1955. In 1957 Luge broke away from the FIBT to form the Federation International de Luge de Course (FIL, International Luge Federation) and the sport was for the first time included in the Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck (Austria) 1964.
There are 2 main winter sport disciplines for Luge, Kuntsbahn (Artificial Track) and Naturbahn (Natural Track). Kuntsbahn with men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles, is currently on the Winter Olympic Programme, however the FIL remains committed to have Naturbahn added to the programme.
Artificial luge tracks have specially designed and constructed banked curves plus walled in straights and due to the costs in construction are shared with the other 2 ice sliding sports, however more modern tracks tend to have a luge specific section which joins the main track near the top. Most tracks are artificially refrigerated, but artificial tracks without artificial cooling also exist (for example, in St Moritz). Tracks are cut and the surfaces prepared to be make them very smooth.
The athletes ride in a flat, aerodynamic feet first position on the sled, keeping their heads low to minimize air resistance. Steering the sled is mainly achieved through the 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 in the most aerodynamic position. Any slight error, such as a brush of 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 bobsleigh and skeleton competitors start at most tracks, whilst the Doubles and Women’s Singles competition have their starthouse located further down the track. Artificial track luge is the fastest and most agile sledding sport.
Racing sleds weigh 21–25 kilograms for singles and 25–30 kilograms (55–66 lb) for doubles. Lugers compete against a timer and are timed to a thousandth of a second, making luge one of the most precisely timed sports in the world. Athletes may wear additional lead which helps them to maintain momentum whilst travelling down the track. The amount of lead worn is regulated and based on an athletes body weight.
Natural tracks are adapted from existing mountain roads and paths. Artificially banked curves are not permitted. The track’s surface must 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 and the US. At approximately half-mile (0.8 km) in length natural tracks are shorter than their artificial counterparts. World Championships have been held since 1979 whilst European Championships were first held in 1970.