Winter Olympics: Luge
One of the fastest Olympic sports
by Gerry Brown and Christine Frantz
Luge, which takes its name from the French word for sled, is one of the fastest Olympic sports, with riders exceeding 90 mph.
Luge action in Vancouver will be at Whistler Sliding Center. The track for the men's luge competition is 1,450 metres long, and 1,198 meters for the women's and doubles luge events. The official track speed record is a mind-numbing 153.98 kilometers per hour!
There are three divisions in the luge competition: men's singles, women's singles, and doubles. Luge doubles can be contested by either sex but the teams are almost always made up of two men.
The singles format for Olympic luge is unique. Instead of the usual format of two timed runs in one day, athletes make four runs down the course over two days of competition. Men and women compete on the same track, but the women start the race at a point farther down the track.
The doubles competition, in which one rider lies on top of the other, uses the more traditional format. Each team makes two timed runs during the one-day competition. The team with the fastest total time is the winner.
Luge made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Innsbruck Games and has been dominated by a handful of countries—Germany, Austria, Italy, and the former Soviet Union countries.
It wasn't until the 1998 Nagano Games that the United States broke the stranglehold, claiming the doubles' silver and bronze. They repeated the silver-bronze feat in the doubles event 2002 at Salt Lake City. The team of Brian Martin and Mark Grimmette took the bronze in 1998 and the silver in 2002, but the U.S. failed to medal in the 2006 Games in Torino.
Top U.S. luger Tony Benshoof is the only American chance for a medal; he has consistently placed in the top 10 in world competitions. Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, the 2002 and 2006 gold medalist, is favored to win the top spot once again.
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