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Everything You Need to Know About Luge

 1994 Golds
 Critical Moment
 How It Works
 Nuts and Bolts
 U.S. Outlook
 Others to Watch
 Looking Back at Lillehammer
 Gold Medalists

Venue: Luge events will take place at a track called "Spiral," the first artificial ice track in Asia, which is located in the foothills of Mount Iizuna in the Asakawa district in the northern part of Nagano City. The 1,700-meter track has an elevation of 113 meters and encompasses 15 curves. Spiral is unique because it has two uphill sections that make the track more demanding for lugers and bobsled teams.

1994 Golds: Men's singles (Germany's Georg Hackl, 3:21:571); men's doubles (Italy's Wilfred Huber and Kurt Brugger, 1:36.720); women (Italy's, Gerda Weissensteiner, 3:15.517).

Critical Moment: A bad start can mean defeat in luge, where victory can be determined by a thousandth of a second.

luge start

How It Works: Luge athletes become virtual "flying" machines by lying on their backs on open sleds, feet first, maintaining perfect form. They fly down the same ice-covered course, filled with hairpin turns, as the bobsledders. They steer with their calves. Speeds reach about 74 mph. Both men and women compete in singles and doubles. Unlike the bobsled, in which the crew is at least partially protected, the luger lies supine and with little protection except for a helmet. The race is started from a stationary position. Weight is crucial; lugers weighing less than the basic weights — 165 pounds for women, 198 pounds for men — can make up the weight, with some restrictions. The extra weights are attached to the luger, not the luge. Garments must meet a number of requirements and are limited to 8.8 pounds of maximum weight. Luge runners may not be heated and are checked before each run. Winners are determined by the aggregate times of four runs for singles and two runs for doubles.

Luge Glove
Nuts and Bolts: Lugers steer by pressing their calves against the outside of the front runners of the sled.

A heavier load provides greater acceleration; in the doubles competition, the heavier of the two racers lies in front.

Lugers use their gloves (pictured), which have small spikes in the palms, to move forward after the push-off.

History: Although the sport of luge is sometimes thought of as being relatively new, sled racing is actually one of the oldest of all winter sports. The word "luge" comes from the French word for "sled." In Germany it is known as "rodel," and it is in the alpine countries of Europe that the sport began.

References to sled racing first appeared in chronicles from Norway in 1480 and the Erz Mountain area in 1552. The first international luge race took place in 1883 with 21 competitors representing seven nations, including the United States. The race was organized by hotels in the Swiss resort of Davos and took place over the 2½-mile road from St. Wolfgang to Klosters.

At the turn of the century, luge was actually governed by the International Bobsled Federation which administered all the ice-track racking sports. In 1953, the sport gained its own International Governing Body with the formation of the Federation Internationale de Luge de course (FIL), and in 1964 it was inaugurated as an Olympic sport at the Winter Games in Innsbruck.

Having no formal luge program at the time, the first U.S. team was made up of American soldiers who were stationed in Europe. Back in the United States, luge attracted a small number of athletes who were relegated to training on the 1932 Olympic bobsled run in Lake Placid, N.Y. With no formal national organization to support and develop, American sliders remained in relative obscurity for the next couple of decades.

The nation's first refrigerated luge run was built in 1979 for the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. The same year, the U.S. Luge Association was formed to govern the sport in the United States.

EventDateTime (ET)
Men's Singles (Prelims.)Sunday, Feb. 812 a.m.
Men's Singles (Finals)Monday, Feb. 912 a.m.
Women's Singles (Prelims.)Tuesday, Feb. 1012 a.m.
Women's Singles (Finals)Wednesday, Feb. 1112 a.m.
DoublesFriday, Feb. 1312 a.m.

U.S. Outlook: The United States has seen its fortunes in the luge rise dramatically in the past few years, and many think this will be the year the Americans claim their first medal in a sport dominated by Europeans.

However, U.S. hopes for glory in Nagano suffered a serious blow when veteran Duncan Kennedy, the most well-known and highly decorated American luger, was sidelined in October with dizziness and nausea caused by a lesion in the brain stem. After a month on the sidelines, Kennedy was cleared to resume training and was scheduled to compete in Calgary on Dec. 20. But after consulting further with doctors, Kennedy abruptly announced his retirement from competition. Kennedy, 29, won 21 international medals in his 17-year career.

That leaves Wendel Suckow, who had moved past Kennedy as the top U.S. rider, as the best American hope in Nagano. Suckow won the 1993 World Championship and was fifth at Lillehammer in 1994.

The best American medal hope, however, actually comes in doubles, where the team of Chris Thorpe and Gordy Sheer is the reigning world champion. The twosome claimed five medals in seven races on the World Cup circuit last year, including three golds. Behind them is Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, who won this season's first two World Cup events.

Veteran Cammy Myler returns to lead the U.S. women. Myler was a member of the 1988, 1992 and 1994 Olympic teams. Her fifth-place finish at Albertville in 1992 is the best by an American women in Olympic competition.

Others to watch: Two-time Olympic gold medalist Georg Hackl of Germany will be back to try for a third, but he will be pressed by Austrian Markus Prock, who was second to Hackl at both Albertville and Lillehammer. Also contending will be Austria's Gerhard Gleirscher and Italy's Armin Zoeggler.

The U.S. doubles hopefuls will face a stiff challenge from Austrian brothers Tobias and Markus Schiegl and Germany's three-time Olympic medalists, Stefan Krausse and Jan Behrendt.

Defending Olympic champion Gerda Weissensteiner should be favored once again in the women's competition, with Austrian sisters Doris and Angelika Neuner, Germany's Jana Bode, the 1996 world champion, and Austria's Andrea Tagwerker, the 1997 world champion, also contending.

Looking Back at Lillehammer: In men's singles, Germany's Georg Hackl won the gold medal again, beating Austria's Markus Prock by .013 of a second — the narrowest margin in history. Italy's Armin Zoeggeler took the bronze. Kennedy, comfortably in fourth place at the beginning of his third run, flew into a turn too fast and crashed. Suckow, however, finished fifth, the best finish for an American in the Olympics. Kennedy drew international attention in October 1993 when he was beaten while defending teammate Robert Pipkins from a group of neo-Nazi skinheads while training in Germany.

In men's doubles, Italy's Huber brothers made headlines — not by winning together, though, but by being part of the two winning pairs. Wilfred Huber won the gold medal with teammate Kurt Brugger, and Norbert Huber took the silver with teammate Hansjorg Raffl. U.S. sleds finished a surprising fourth and fifth, just out of the medals, in the Olympic two-man final and raising hopes for the future.

Weissensteiner gave Italy its first gold medal in women's luge since 1968. Myler was the top American finisher at 11th.

Gold Medalists:

Men's Singles
Year Driver County Time
1964Thomas Kohler, East Germany3:26.77
1968Manfred Schmid, Austria2:52.48
1972Wolfgang Scheidel, West Germany3:27.58
1976Detlef Guenther, West Germany3:27.688
1980Bernhard Glass, West Germany2:54.796
1984Paul Hildgartner, Italy 3:04.258
1988Jens Muller, West Germany 3:05.548
1992Georg Hackl, Germany3:02.363
1994Georg Hackl, Germany 3:21.571
1968East Germany1:35.85
1972East Germany1:28.35
1976East Germany1:25.604
1980East Germany1:19.331
1984West Germany 1:23.620
1988East Germany 1:31.940
1994Italy 1:36.720
Women's Singles
1964Ortrun Enderlein, Germany3:24.67
1968Erica Lechner, Italy2:28.66
1972Anna-Maria Muller, East Germany2:59.18
1976Margit Schumann, East Germany2:50.621
1980Vera Zozulya, USSR2:36.537
1984Steffi Martin, East Germany 2:46.570
1988Steffi Walter (Martin), East Germany3:03.973
1992Doris Neuner, Austria3:06.696
1994Gerda Weissensteiner, Italy 3:15.517

Trivia: 1. What does the the word "luge" mean?
2. How fast can luge sleds go?
3. How many medals has the United States won in luge?

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