Luge riders hurtle down a slippery ice track at great speed, relying on reflexes for steering. Unlike bobsleigh, however, they have no protection should they make an error.
Luge is the French word for “sledge” and, like bobsleigh, it was developed as a sport in Switzerland. Its roots go back to the 16th century, but it was not until 300 years later that the first luge tracks were built by Swiss hotel owners to cater for thrill-seeking tourists.
The first course was built in Davos in 1879, and four years later the town was host to the first international competition, with competitors racing along an icy 4km road between Davos and the village of Klosters. The sport then transferred to what has become its spiritual home, the purpose-built Cresta Run in nearby St Moritz.
Luge is one of the oldest winter sports. It involves competitors lying on their backs on a tiny sled with their feet stretched out in front of them, and racing down an icy track at speeds in the range of 140 km/h, without brakes. As well as the singles, there is a pairs event, with the larger of the two team members lying on top for better aerodynamics.
It was not until 1955 that the first World Championship was organised, i.e. 41 years after the first European Championships. Nine years later, in 1964, luge made its Olympic debut, at the Innsbruck Games, with a mixed event, a men’s event and a women’s event. The programme has not changed since then. Since 1976, this sport has taken place on the same track as bobsleigh.
The discipline was dominated by the East Germans, who won 15 of the 21 gold medals available between 1964 and 1988. One of the undisputed masters of luge is a German: Georg Hackl, who won gold three times consecutively, in 1994 in Lillehammer, 1998 in Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City.