Often compared to “racing a tea tray down an icy chute”, luge is one of the most hair-raising events on any Olympic Winter Games programme, with athletes sliding down the track at high speed, and the same is expected at PyeongChang 2018.
British luger Adam Rosen, who competed in both the 2006 and 2010 editions of the Olympic Winter Games, feels the TV cameras don’t do enough justice to the physical endeavours of his sport’s competitors and their sleds. “You don’t really get a feel for the actual speeds,” he said. “Once you’re at the actual track and you see, ‘Oh, it is actually fast.’
“It can also look as if an athlete is not doing that much when the sport is shown on the TV, but we’re actually steering the whole way down and trying to be relaxed – there’s so much to do, but when you’re doing it right, the spectator at home doesn’t get a feel for it.”
Clocking speeds of over 140 kmh and enduring six Gs of pressure on the curves, luge is a battle of brawn as well as bravery. Comprising three disciplines — singles, doubles and a team relay — athletes must stay relaxed physically in order to maintain the highest possible speeds.
“The run might only be 50 seconds long, not more than a minute, and you’re absolutely knackered after the run because you’re focusing mentally and physically,” Rosen said. “You’re putting your body through so much and you’re doing all this while taking the bumps and steering precisely through all these curves going down. But the more you do it, the more you get used to it, and you’re constantly navigating the sled.
“Doubles is slightly different. You have to have a good chemistry with your teammate to get down — it’s not quite like a double-decker bus going down, but it’s similar. You have to be more precise and aware of where you’re going because it’s a lot easier to crash in doubles over singles. They’re both very difficult. I did enjoy doing both, though I’m only competing in the singles this year.”
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“In luge it’s physically demanding, but it’s also a skill. You need to have technique to get the sled down the track, but the sled is very important. You could be an amazing slider, but if your sled is slightly tuned off that day, there’s nothing you can do to make up that speed.
“In training, we do a lot of gym stuff, dynamic training and Olympic lifts – stuff to get the power for the start – but you want the coordination and agility training for when you go down the track. You need all those pieces of the pie to all fit together perfectly. With that you can expect good results.”
Described by Rosen as the “Formula One” of luge, the singles event carries most kudos owing to its high-velocity attack — male lugers at PyeongChang 2018 will start their descent at the very top of the track, whereas in the other events, runs begin at a lower height.
“There are four runs in the singles — two per day — and after the first day you definitely feel really tired. There’s time to rest and get ready for the next day. After the final run on the second day you’re mentally and physically done. It’s very demanding on the body and mind. I won’t hold back at any one run — I go full out.”
With two riders in the sled, teamwork is key in doubles, Rosen argued, with both athletes operating and thinking in tandem. The slightest miscommunication can prove disastrous.
“The sled is being controlled by both athletes, but the top person has more control because they can see more of the track. But the bottom person needs to work with the shoulders, rolling on and off the curves.
“Because there are two people on the sled, they almost have to be thinking what the other person would be thinking. If it’s slightly off you will have problems going down the track.”
Introduced at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, the team relay is a relatively new event featuring one male, one female and a doubles pair in each four-person team. Each athlete does their run and presses a pad at the bottom, which releases the next racer in line. Errors and missteps have made this a must-see spectator event.
“It’s very exciting,” Rosen said. “And it’s an amazing race to watch. It’s even better to compete in because of the [touch] pad — there are so many different variables. If one person messes up [by missing the pad as they finish] it can directly affect the whole team, but it adds a whole different element to it. And people do miss the pad, so watching it is a real a rush.”