Winter Olympics 101: Luge vs. Skeleton

Ever wonder how those athletes who compete in the luge and skeleton make their way down the icy, twisting track at speeds of over 12o km/h?

Well, I have and so I decided to find the answer. Here it is!

Lugers fire themselves down an icy track, on their backs, feet first. They steer using the pressure of your legs on either side to control the runners. Also, you can direct your sled by making shoulder movements to shift your weight from side to side. There are two grips on either side of the luge, which the athlete will hold on to–with dear life–as these are the only things keeping them on the sled.

Luge (a French term for sleigh) is essentially a piece of fiberglass mounted on two metal steels, like ice skates. The pod is where the luger will place his/her body. The steels are the only part of the sled that will make contact with the ice, which is why they are filed to a fine edge that literally cuts through the ice, maintaining their grip and ability to steer the course. The runners are the sled’s main steering mechanism.


Athletes go down a track covered in ice, head first, on a sled that is not much bigger than a cafeteria tray. The athlete must steer the sled through twisting, high-speed turns and straights.

Steering is performed by manipulating the sled with the legs and shoulders. Steer too hard, and the sled will skid, losing valuable time. Lean too little, and the sled is at the mercy of the track – causing slow times at best and a crash at worst.

The head-first, face-down approach of skeleton might look like a wild ride, but it’s the safest sliding discipline because sleds are controlled with subtle body movements rather than by runners – making it more difficult for a driver to wipe out.

It’s all in the muscle…

Athletes of both sports are advised to build their upper body strength, as the added muscle helps to provide extra weight, making the athlete go faster and helps them to propel themselves at the start of the race. The extra muscle also helps athletes cope with the force of taking on extreme high speeds through the turns of the track. The G-force from the high speeds can be grueling on the athletes body, with 3Gs feeling like three of you lying on top of each other. Ouch!


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