Olivia Harvey
Updated Feb 09, 2018 @ 9:59 am
Image of Olympic luger
Credit: Getty Images / Sergei Bobylev /TASS

Perhaps one of the most terrifying but fun-looking Winter Olympic sports is luge. Sure, luge seems easy — what skill does one really need to sled down a track, right? Wrong. The “Fastest Sport on Ice” requires a lot of concentration and precise control techniques. So, exactly what is luge? Let us explain.

The sport of luge, which is the French word for “sledge” (a vehicle on runners used for transporting goods or passengers over ice), developed as a sport in Switzerland sometime during the 16th century. It became an official sport in the 19th century when Swiss hotel owners built a luge track for adrenaline-junky tourists. The first ever international luge race was held in Davos in 1883.

The scariest part about luge is the fact that there are absolutely no brakes on the sled, which can reach a speed of up to 90 mph. Lugers use their heels to ultimately stop the toboggan at the end of the course. The course ends on a slight incline, which helps to slow down the sled, but still.

Luge competitors use their feet, calves, and shoulder muscles to direct the toboggan. The main steering mechanism are the two kufens, or elongated runners, on which the competitor rests their feet. A slight nudge to the kufen can drastically shift the toboggan’s direction.

To maximize speed and be as aerodynamic as possible, a competitor must keep their head as far back as possible within the pod, or main part of the luge. Competitors also wear tight-fitting uniforms and shoes with pointed toes to help increase speed.

Luge runs are timed to the thousandth of a second, so speed and precision are key.

Luge made its debut at the 1964 Winter Olympics and the world has been captivated by it ever since. As much as we’d like to try our hand at luge, we think it’s best if we leave the speedy sport to the professionals.