No it's not Cool Runnings, calling me a loser is funny only the first time and no there are no brakes.
Let's clear the air on what luge actually is, here is what the Google said:
Luge: a light toboggan for one or two people, ridden in a sitting or supine position.
Notice the *light toboggan* part, meaning it is not robust. Fiberglass is the only thing protecting you from the ice.
Commonly asked questions
How does someone get involved?
How fast do you go?
Depends on the weather and the track. On normals days we average about 70-75 mph, the fastest I ever clocked was 83 mph (my eyes watered).
Are those suits heated?
Yes and we are served chai tea after every run and we get to listen to nice elevator music while we slide. Unfortunately no.
Have you ever crashed?
Too many times. They teach you how to crash when you are younger so we don't get hurt as often. However sometimes you just get wrecked. Here are some fun videos:
(some of those crashes are the type that make you swear to never get on a sled again. Yet we always do)
Is there skill involved, what makes it so hard?
At first this question really fired me up because if people only knew how many hours of film we watch to figure all this out. There are 4 ways to steer: with your head, shoulders, hands and feet. Each curve requires a different entrance and different algorithm of steering in order to get down the track safely. You ultimately get 7 runs to memorize a 20 curve track going 75 mph. Plan on crashing for one of those runs. Does this give you an idea? If one week goes bad, don't worry you have 8 more tracks to redeem yourself. Here is what can happen even when you have trained for years:
To make the World Cup team you have to climb the ladder of Team USA. You don't just get chosen, you have to race on. It takes about 5 years of local sliding to even have the chance to race on to the national team. You first have to race on to the Junior National Team. There are Jr. World Cups in Europe to race where there are about 30-40 athletes from around the world. If you are able to pull a few medals then you get put in the race offs for the Senior National Team.
The typical season happens in Europe for the World Cup tour. We hit about 8-10 world cups then the Olympics takes the place of World Champs every 4th year. The Germans are super dominant. We think they cheat, we can talk about that later. When we are learning to sing the alphabet, Germans are getting on sleds for an after school sport. Look at them so cute.
Yes I know you probably did not know it existed but in Europe it is incredibly popular. While football is on ESPN here, Eurosport (European equivalent of ESPN) will regularly show luge, biathlon and ski jumping. They get crazy crowds to these world cups and often times there are people waiting for your race to be over so you can sign a postcard THEY brought of YOUR face. It's crazy. They also believe in fan mail over there. WHO KNEW.
There is no body type for sliding. Obviously it is nice to be tall and aerodynamic but there have been champions that are also short and stocky. Since luge is so mental, anyone can be good at it. Normally luge athlete peak at late 20s, early 30s. Most sports are incredibly physical but for luge it is more mental. People have been know to slide with broken backs, ankles and feet.
We wear a spandex suit. Helmet. Face shield. Gloves with spikes on them and then booties for our feet that help us point our toes. Usually an athlete will have a practice suit and a race suit. The race suit tends to be a little bit smaller and tighter because it helps with aerodynamics. We also wear weight vests filled with lead to help with weight discrepancies. If someone weighs 2 kilos more than I do, then I can wear 2 kilos of lead to help even out the playing field. The only down side is that you are pulling 2 kilos of extra weight for the start where as the heavier person just has to pull their body weight.
We try and gain weight. We eat lots. Unlike other sports where they try and cut calories, we can't get enough of them. Weight means speed for us. You can imagine what I thought when I went back to high school and my friends were trying to eat salads. I thought it was so weird why they wanted to be thin. To me, big was beautiful.
Most of us were not born to be great at sliding. Anyone could do it, just depends on how bad you want it. What makes the best luge athlete is someone who is able to relax in times where things are about to go really wrong. You will never have the perfect run so the best athletes are the ones that can keep their cool and still get the sled down the hill. The more you think and try, the worse you get. The more you analyze and fight for every ounce of speed, the more tense you are. True world champions are the ones that are able to turn every thing off. The athletes who were pacing in the start house were the ones that failed. The ones that fell asleep during runs were the ones who always did well. It's backwards I know but it's the beauty of a sliding sport. That is why athletes can compete for so long, if you can master this train of thought and let nothing affect you, you will always have success.
Let's talk about sleds. Every country has different sleds. There is not one regulation sled that everyone uses, each country has their own method and technology of how a sled should be built. That being said, some sleds are just faster than others and there is nothing you can do about it. Variables of making a sled: type of steel for your runners, the angle of your runners, how parallel they are, the angle of the steel hitting the ice, the angle of your bow, how long your steels are, where the balance point is...it's intricate. They say a bobsled is like a school bus, a skeleton sled is like a Honda, and a luge sled is a Porsche. There are many more finite parts to a luge sled because we go faster and have more control. Bobsled and skeleton tend to hit a lot more walls and go for more if an idea of placement instead of placing the sled down to the inch like we can. One is not better than the other, just different sports for different people.
We spend hours sanding our steels with sand paper. Most athletes will have clothing sponsors or gear sponsors, well we had sand paper sponsors. We carried pounds of sand paper with us to Europe each year because we burned through it so fast. With sand paper we are able to get out scratches or marks caused by dirt in the track or anything hitting your steel. We are also able to manipulate the edge off the steel, that part that hits the ice. It is similar to skiing: when you carve on skis, you are on a edge and never flat footed. Luge steels are always on an edge and never sitting flat. We are able to control how rolled that edge might be or how sharp it is. The more roll: faster you go with less control. Sharp: slower but more control. Depending on how your training was the week before will decide how you will want your roll. If you slide well you want to put some roll on there because you would rather go for gold and crash then play it safe with sharp edges.
A sled can weigh around 50 pounds so they are not the easiest to travel with. It is like we are a traveling circus everywhere we go. We transport sleds in boxes and they follow us around the world. Once we unpack sled boxes, everything is a mess until we pack up and leave for the next track.
One of my favorite things about luge is just how technical it is. It is the only sport timed to the thousandth of a second. There have been times where I have breathed wrong and a few curves later I was on my face. The sport may look like we just lay there but it is so dynamic and body control is key. You know when you drive on the freeway and one little movement of the steering wheel can send you? It's like that but with our body. One little twitch or wrong move going 80 mph can put you in some scary situations. Athletes tend to get banged up or break some bones but it's the great athletes that can walk away in one piece.
WHAT IVE LEARNED
Respect every sport no matter how easy it looks, luge is the weirdest of all
Anyone can be beat on any day
Take care of your sled & your sled will take care of you
Don't let any sport define who you are
Success comes once you commit your mind, body and soul