The need for speed is not a modern development as you will see with these 10 luge racing facts. Luge racing has been a popular international sport for almost 130 years and shows no signs of waning popularity. Here are 10 Luge racing facts every enthusiast should know:
- Small, lightweight sleds are built for one or two racers who lie supine (completely flat on the back) with feet pointed down the track. Current Olympic luge events include men’s and women’s singles and mixed doubles.
- Modern racers use small fiberglass sleds called shells which sit on stainless steel blades that curve up to support the legs and feet that extend beyond the shell. A racer wears a super light helmet of synthetic materials or fiberglass, and the body suit is designed to create the least amount of wind resistance. The gloves have sharp metal spikes on three fingers which help the luger to grip into the ice when starting at the top of a run. Even the luger’s shoes are special and must be made according to international regulations to be legal in a race.
- In the first international luge race, racers from six countries raced four kilometers between Swiss resorts. The winning time was 9 minutes and 15 seconds. At the last Olympics in Vancouver, the fastest time posted was in a training run made by Manuel Pfister of Austria, who hit 154 kilometers, or 95.6 mph.
- The first official World Luge Championships took place in 1955, and luge was accepted as an Olympic sport in 1964. Consider that the oldest known two-runner sleds were uncovered at the Oseburg burial ship archaeological site and date back to 800 B.C.E. That’s a span of over 2,700 years.
- Speaking of the Olympics, all of the luge medals have been won by just four European countries from 1964 until 2002. Italy, the former U.S.S.R., Austria and Germany dominated until the U.S. won the gold in men’s luge in 2002.
- All international and Olympic ice luge competition takes place on one of the 15 tracks located worldwide. Only 5 of those tracks are located outside of Europe: two in the U.S., two in Canada and one in Japan.
- Women’s singles luge race tracks are always shorter and have fewer curves. Women may also participate in the doubles competition, but few do; most teams all male.
- Some ice luge tracks are maintained throughout the year, but some, like the St. Moritz track in Switzerland, are little more than a path in the summer months, and are rebuilt each winter, which means that the track is never exactly the same. On top of that, the St. Moritz track is extremely fast, with luge racers often reaching speeds over 90 mph.
- The St. Moritz track in Switzerland is the longest international luge track at 1722 meters long; the shortest is the Altenberg, Germany track at 1120 meters, but it is packed with curves. The length of the track and the amount of drop within that distance, in many cases over 30 stories (300 feet), combine to affect the speed of the racers.
- The tiniest movements affect the luge racer’s speed and direction. Lugers steer by slightly moving the right or left foot, or with tiny body movements. A luge racer brakes by sitting up, gripping the curved blades at the front of the sled and pulling up while sitting on the back of the blades.
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