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 for singles and 25-30 kilograms 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.
Street luge is a recent innovation of the sport. Although it is considered an extreme sport, it is not yet an Olympic sport.
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.
The History of Luge
Though the sport of luge is relatively new, sled racing is one of the oldest winter sports. The 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. 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 Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City.
Luge Competition Rules
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 sleds’ 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.