Sports

The new Olympic luge relay race has three sleds, four racers and a touchpad

US luge relay.jpg

Matthew Mortensen, top, and Griffall Preston (lying down) of the United States approach the touchpad during a team relay luge World Cup race in December.

Credit:

Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

There will be six new events at the Sochi Winter Olympics next month and one is a fast-paced relay race long popular among luge aficionados.

If it seems weird to watch one or two people go down an icy tunnel on a very small sled at 90 miles per hour, then check this out: in the relay race, it’s three sleds in a row, a women’s single, a men’s single and a double.

Instead of handing over a baton, athletes must activate a touchpad at the finish line to open the gate for the next sled to go.

Going down the icy run at the speed of a sports car is dangerous: In 2010 a young luge racer from the Republic of Georgia died during a practice run at the Vancouver Olympics.

So this time around, the track will be “slower,” but in the relay race, sliders have three times the opportunities to make mistakes and the timing clock does not stop between runs, making the reaction time of the male slider and the double team sliders a key component.

Luge athletes from Germany totally dominated the last World Cup season, winning all four competitions in 2013-14. Clearly, the German luge team is expecting a few gold medals in Sochi. But team USA is hopeful, too

American slider Chris Mazdzer told USA Today that he spent about seven weeks in Sochi since the new luge track opened there nearly two years ago. He's now hoping the time spent will pay off when he returns for the Olympic competition next month.

Some 'fun facts' from usaluge.org:

  • Luge is the only sliding sport measured to the single thousandth of a second
  • Speeds in luge can exceed 95 mph. (“The fastest sport on ice” is usaluge.org’s motto)

  • The average luge run has a vertical drop of 30 stories (300 feet)

  • US luge sliders.jpg

    US Army World Class Athlete Program lugers Sgt. Matt Mortensen, Chris Mazdzer, Kate Hansen and WCAP Sgt. Preston Griffall were named to the Olympic Luge Team in December.

    Credit:

    US Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs