There are 16 curves on the luge, skeleton and bobsled track at this year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Some are hard, banking turns, while others are less-perceptible shifts on the icy course. At least from an overhead map, Curve 9 would seem to belong to the latter group.
But as a number of sliders already have discovered after hearing horror stories about the turn during the long run-up to the Games, underestimate Curve 9 at your own peril. Emily Sweeney of the U.S. team experienced its trauma first hand Tuesday, emerging unhurt from a scary crash.
“The problem is that the curve opens up to the wall, so that means when the athlete comes out on their sled they’re already pointed in the wrong direction” U.S. luger Matt Mortensen said in a USA Today video filmed before competition began.
After talking with Sweeney, Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press described it thusly: “It’s like driving on a slanted road, but having your car getting pulled in a direction away from the way you’re steering.”
Sweeney fell victim to Curve 9 on her fourth and final run Tuesday, coming out sideways and losing control. She ended up hitting the top of Curve 12 with her feet before crashing to the bottom of the turn on her head or neck. Sweeney was able to walk slowly to the medical center with the help of emergency personnel, but her Olympic dreams were dashed (she was in 14th place after three runs). It was a horrifying crash, as her mother’s expression attested.
According to the AP, preliminary tests showed that Sweeney suffered no fractures in the crash.
Felix Loch, the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist who was leading the men’s singles competition after his first two runs, also had trouble with Curve 9 in the men’s competition. He bumped into the wall on Curve 9 in his fourth and final run Sunday, losing precious hundredths of a second and falling off the medal podium entirely with a fifth-place finish.
“Curve 9 is probably the hardest transition in all of luge, bobsled, skeleton on any track in the world,” U.S. luger Tucker West told USA Today.
“If you were to drive it like a normal curve, it spits you straight into a wall. And on top of that, the straightaway itself is kinked; they have two curves hidden within it,” West added, referencing a section of track that NBC’s announcers have dubbed “the Runbreaker.”
Fail to navigate the turn, and your chances of a medal are shot. Get through it cleanly — as Germany’s Dajana Eitberger and Natalie Geisenberger and Summer Britcher of the United States did Monday, setting back-to-back-to-back track records on their second runs — and there could be an anthem played in your honor in the near future.
“My guess is that’s what medals are going to come down to in PyeongChang,” West said.
Read more Post coverage from PyeongChang: