Tragic death of Olympic luger today; skeleton implications

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Tragic death of Olympic luger today; skeleton implications

Postby George » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:31 pm

Tragically, luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia died today, after being thrown off the track during his practice session for the Winter Olympics.

While the related Olympic sport of skeleton obviously has its dangers, I want to emphasize that the likelihood of dying (or having a violent crash) is substantially lower for skeleton than for luge, even though skeleton is perceived to be more dangerous because we're diving on head-first like maniacs. (As for the third sliding sport of bobsled, it's definitely more dangerous than skeleton, but probably not quite as dangerous as luge.)

I already discussed this at length in 2002, in a discussion on the newsgroup rec.sport.olympics. Here's an excerpt of my comments:

As a skeleton athlete and someone who has tried luge, I've noticed many differences.

For starters, skeleton sliders use heavier sleds (mine is 95 lbs). By contrast, luge sleds are so light I can easily lift and carry them with one hand.

... skeleton is -- despite the crazy headfirst image -- safer than luge. Given skeleton's lower center of gravity (face is two inches off the ice) and heavier sleds, you're less likely to be catapulted high into the air after hitting a wall. There were no serious wipeouts for skeleton sliders in Torino, in sharp contrast to the many luge crashes (including a coma-inducing one for Renato Mizoguchi in practice last year).

In terms of steering, lugers exert much more control (by pressing their legs on the "kufens") and go several mph faster (skeleton tops out at "only" around 80 mph). Skeleton sliders, by contrast, steer with subtle movements of the head, shoulders, knees, and dragging a toe.


Thus, compared to skeleton, luge suffers from these risk factors:

* higher center of gravity,
* lighter sleds
* (slightly) higher speeds
* "kufens" to steer, subjecting the lugers' track lines to wilder oscillations if they mis-steer.

Anyone have thoughts or questions on this?
- George
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Re: Tragic death of Olympic luger today; skeleton implications

Postby SweetHomeAlabama » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:16 pm

This is very tragic and sad. This is the reason why I will probably never try participating in luge. I did the skeleton intro camp back in '07 at Utah Olympic Park and hope to go back within the next couple of years and do it again. As much guts as it takes to do skeleton, I probably have more respect for anyone who gets on a luge sled.
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Re: Tragic death of Olympic luger today; skeleton implications

Postby George » Sat Feb 13, 2010 3:09 pm

SweetHomeAlabama wrote:This is very tragic and sad. This is the reason why I will probably never try participating in luge. I did the skeleton intro camp back in '07 at Utah Olympic Park and hope to go back within the next couple of years and do it again. As much guts as it takes to do skeleton, I probably have more respect for anyone who gets on a luge sled.


Indeed. I'm hopeful this tragedy will strengthen the focus on safety, even though these sports will always have inherent danger.

The youth luge program would often have sliding sessions before or after the skeleton devo team's sessions. So I had a chance to see them slide. Some of them looked like they were only 10 years old or so. I thought they were brave -- I never did anything so challenging or risky when I was that age.

I spent much of my luge lesson crashing, but it was a fun learning experience (ironically, when I mentioned I wanted to try skeleton, my luge coach said that sport was "crazy"). Lugers who master racing lines tend to excel when they make the switch to skeleton. Like US Olympic sliders Zach Lund (2006), John Daly (2006), and Christopher Hedquist (2002 alternate).
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