Luge is a winter sledding sport, first invented in the 19th century in Switzerland. The term may refer to the sport or to the sled used to slide down icy tracks with plenty of curves. In this sport, riders lie on their backs on the sled, carefully controlling turns with feet and shoulder movements. In World Cup and Olympic competitions, single riders of both genders and two-person luge events exist.
The creation of luge, and skeleton (head first sledding) was not initially intended for competitive sporting. In St. Moritz, Switzerland, guests staying at the various health resorts were creating problems for residents when they used small sleds to slide down city streets. To keep residents safe, hotelier Caspar Badrutt built a track for guests so that they could sled to their hearts’ content.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that luge became an actual competitive sport, and it took much longer for luge to become an Olympic sport. It didn’t replace skeleton sledding in the Modern Olympics until 1964. Since then, though, the sport is very much enjoyed as part of the Olympics because of the fast speeds, hard curves and flying blind aspects of luge.
Two types of tracks exist today. There are natural tracks, which don’t have banked curves and don’t require artificial refrigeration. Other tracks are built with banked curves and straights, and most do rely on refrigeration to keep the track icy. Most events allow “luger" to qualify with a specific time before competing in the “main” competition, which will then determine who wins, and victory is based on posting the best time while crossing the finish line on the sled.
Course length can vary from about 2461 feet- 3937 feet (approximately 750-1200 meters). Women’s events often have a shorter course than men, but use the same track and start farther down the track than do men. Sleds are built to go very fast, sometimes in excess of 90 mph (144.84 kph), which makes luge the fastest of the sledding sports. A fiberglass open sled sits atop two steel runners called blades or steels. Sleds do have handles too, which can help with control of the speeding sled.
Since becoming a world sport, luge has been dominated by Europeans. Americans and Canadians, though performing well in many winter sports have not been the world’s best lugers, earning only a handful of bronze and silver medals at World Cup events and at the Winter Olympics. Countries that seem to produce the most skilled lugers include Germany, Austria, and Italy.