To Luge Or Not To Luge
Photo Credit: crainsdetroit.com
Luge is one of the Olympics’ fastest, most exhilarating, and most precisely timed sports. The Luge events are among the most exciting to watch of the Winter Games for a number of reasons. Luge is a sport in which one to two athletes ride supine (on their backs) with their feet in front of them. They are expertly positioned atop a relatively lightweight sled with foot pedals for steering. Lugers, once perfectly positioned on their sleds, race down long ice tunnels attempting to reach insane speeds and achieve the fastest times possible.
Luge’s roots date back to at least the 16th century, but it wasn’t until several centuries later that the first clear evidence of luge became prominent. The first famous luge course was at a Swiss hotel, set up for thrill seeking tourists. Since the late 1800s, the sport has continued to evolve in terms of specifications as well as the skill of athletes. It wasn't until 1964, however, that luge was finally included as a sport at the Olympic Games. The sport was brought on to replace the sport Skeleton.
Part of what makes luge so exciting is its inherent danger to competitors. Lugers often put themselves and their safety at risk when they speed down ice courses at unbelievable speeds. The average professional or Olympic speeds hover around 85 miles per hour, with the speed record sitting more than 10 mph faster at about 96 miles per hour. The physical danger they put themselves in by sledding on ice at these speeds cannot be overstated. In fact, in 2010 the sport saw its third professional death. Georgian racer, Nodar Kumaritashvili, was qualifying for the 2010 winter Olympics in Whistler, Canada when he made a slight steering error and crashed fatally on the course. As a precaution against such a fate, lugers wear a good amount of protective equipment, especially in the form of headwear.
Luge is, like many Olympic sports, extremely competitive. It is common for competitors to finish within one one hundredth of a second of one another. In ten times as fast as the blink of an eye a racer can go from gold to silver. This means that those lugers who are able to claim a spot atop the Olympic podium have every single muscle movement down to an exact science when it comes to how they race their course.
Among this year’s lugers to look out for, Felix Loch of Germany is absolutely leading the pack. He won his first gold medal at the age of 20 in the 2010 games and reclaimed his spot at the top four years later at Sochi. Whether he is able to pull a gold hat trick still remains to be seen, but it’s clear all eyes will be on him.
From the women’s side, Tatyana Ivanova from Russia is leading the pack. Although she only beat fellow lugers by a small fraction of a second, it was enough to qualify her as a world class olympian. With Russia being completely excluded from the coming Winter Games in Pyeongchang, all eyes will be on Germany’s luger, Natalie Geisenberger. Russia was prohibited from competing at all in the coming Olympics (as well as the following games in 2020) due to widespread evidence of cheating via the aid of steroids.This is good news, however, for second place competitors across all sports who previously lost the gold to Russian competitors. By all accounts Germany is absolutely the nation to beat when it comes to top luge speeds in the world and will undoubtedly make huge gains in South Korea in 2018!