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Luge

Updated on February 3, 2010

The Luge is a small sled. The word is French. Lugeing is a form of tobogganing and is both a recreational and a competitive sport. It has been practiced in Europe for decades and gained popularity in North America in the 1960's. It is easy to learn, inexpensive, and yet challenging for serious competitors.

The Sled and the Course

The luge is about 4 feet (1.2 meters) in length and weighs up to 44 pounds (20 kg). It is usually made of wood with steel runners, no more than 19 inches (48 cm) apart, and is equipped with a leather seat. Because of its extreme flexibility, the luge is easily steered down snow-covered roads or special ice and snow chutes. In competition it reaches speeds of 65 miles (105 km) per hour or more.

The sitting rider holds a leather strap attached to the front of the runners and leans, almost lies, back for maximum speed- one hand on the strap and the other on the side of the sled. Steering is accomplished by three basic maneuvers: (1) pulling up on the forward part of the inside runner (left turn, left runner; right turn, right runner), causing the rear portion of this runner to drag and slow down a bit; (2) pushing the front of the outside runner to the inside, by using the foot and leg as a lever in the sled frame; and (3) placing more body weight over the outside runner, causing it to travel slightly faster than the inside runner. When two persons luge on one sled, the front person steers.

Lugeing is often done on natural runs, but greatest speeds are attained on prepared tracks. These special courses are usually about 3,000 feet (915 meters) long, an 11% slope being desirable. The course consists of about 15 banked turns ranging from 10 to 15 feet (3-4.5 meters) high and varying from only a slight change of direction (curve) to a high-banked hairpin. The curves generally are more steeply banked and higher than in bobsledding.

Competitions

Olympic and other international competitions are held on single-seaters for men and women and double-seaters for men. Each nation is allowed four men and three women in singles and two teams of doubles. Singles are allowed four runs and doubles two. Winners are decided by the best combined times of all runs in each category. Rules require the use of helmet, goggles, and aluminum caps for knees and elbows.

History

Although forms of sledding have been practiced in many places for centuries, luge-ing probably originated in the European Alps. It was first popularized in the 1880's by tourists. The first luge record dates from 1883. A significant development occurred in the 1930's when Martin Tietze of Austria invented a flexible sled, which increased steering capabilities. As the sport developed, roads were closed to other traffic, and eventually special runs were designed and constructed.

The first European lugeing championship was held in Reichenberg, Austria, in 1914; the first world championship at Oslo, Norway, in 1955; and the first Olympic competition in 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria. In 1957 lugeing was given its own governing body, the Federation Internationale de Luge de Course (FIL).

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