Q: What is luge?
Luge is one of three sliding sports at the Games (bobsled and skeleton are the others). It’s similar to skeleton but feet first and on your back. Think high-speed, high-tech sledding.
Athletes begin in a sitting position and push themselves to speed by hand. As the track steepens, the athletes lie back, as flat as possible, steering with their legs and shoulders. Careening through the curves, they can hit speeds nearing 90 mph, earning luge the label “fastest sport on ice.”
The term “luge” comes from the French word for “sled” and dates back centuries as a transportation method. The sport came to the Olympics in 1964, and the Germans have dominated ever since.
Germany (if you include former East Germany) has more luge medals (65) than all other countries combined (64). It would have even more if not for a 1968 cheating scandal in Grenoble. At those Games, the East German women finished 1-2-4 but were disqualified for illegally heating the runners of their sleds (which reduces friction on the ice).
The United States has five luge medals and no golds. At the 2014 Games, Erin Hamlin became the first American, man or women, to win an individual medal (bronze). The rest have been in doubles.
Q: What medal events are there? Where are they held?
There are four medal events in luge. The quickest aggregate time wins.
Singles: Athletes take four runs. The format is the same for both men and women.
Doubles: Two people on the sled, and only two runs. While this event is technically mixed gender, historically there have been only male pairs (heavier is faster).
Team relay: Each country’s team is composed of a men’s singles sled, a women’s singles sled and a doubles sled. Each takes one run (in any order). When the first sled crosses the line, a button is hit at the finish signaling the next sled to start. When the second sled finishes, the button triggers the final sled. The clock continues to run the whole time.
All PyeongChang sliding events will take place at the Alpensia Sliding Centre. The men and women race on the same track, but the women have a lower starting point. The men’s course is about 0.84 miles (1,344.08 meters) long, while the women’s course is about 0.75 miles (1,201.82 meters). The doubles and team relay events also use the women’s start.
Q: Is it dangerous?
Yes. Luge is the fastest of the sliding sports, and two luge athletes have died at the Olympics, both in training. The last death came in 2010, on a terrifyingly fast Vancouver track. Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled and flew off the track. He crashed headfirst into a metal pole and died. Organizers have since intentionally tried to make luge tracks a little bit slower and safer.
Q: Do they wear cool gear?
Definitely, like spiked gloves to help with pushing, as well as extremely aerodynamic suits and helmets. Lugers go so fast through the corners that they experience G-forces of up to 5. That’s compared with 3 for astronauts during a rocket launch.
Q: Has there ever been a tie?
There was a doubles tie for gold in 1972 between Italy and East Germany. Since then, luge has been the only sliding sport timed to one thousandth of a second.
Q: Who to watch for?
The Germans. Always the Germans. The team is returning medalists in men’s singles (Felix Loch), women’s singles (Natalie Geisenberger) and doubles (Wendl Tobias and Arlt Tobias). The Germans also won the team relay in Sochi four years ago.
Also worth noting is Austrian Wolfgang Kindl, who should contend in men’s singles.
The U.S. team is certainly experienced. All 10 athletes have at least a World Cup medal to their name. That said, it’s unclear whether that will translate to Olympic medals. Hamlin, the bronze medalist in Sochi, returns in women’s singles. So does Summer Britcher, who has had a few strong international finishes recently (including a World Cup victory). The tandem of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman could also be fast in doubles. In men’s singles, Chris Mazdzer will be looking to improve on 13th-place finishes at both the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics.
Q: When should I watch?
Most of the luge events will be televised with a delay but can be watched via live-streaming at NBCOlympics.com. Here are the times for the finals in all four events. A full TV listing can be found here.
Men’s singles finals: Feb. 11, 6 a.m. ET (8 p.m. in Korea).
Women’s singles finals: Feb. 13, 5:30 a.m. ET (7:30 p.m. in Korea).
Doubles finals: Feb. 14, 6 a.m. ET (8 p.m. in Korea).
Team relay: Feb. 15, 7:30 a.m. ET (9:30 p.m. in Korea).