Germany are undoubtedly the luge team to beat going into the Beijing Olympics, as Natalie Geisenberger chases history.
The 33-year-old has five medals in total, four of them gold including singles and team titles at the past two Games. One more would take her level with Italian Armin Zoggeler on six medals in total - the all-time record.
In the men’s event, David Gleirscher of Austria is the defending champion - but German Felix Loch is going for a fourth gold, while there is also the men’s doubles and team event to look forward to.
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Luge argues it is the fastest of the sliding sports, though there are not huge differences between the speeds of luge and skeleton. They are closely related - luge sliders compete on their back, while skeleton athletes go head first down the ice track.

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Like its related sports, the origins can be traced back to the Swiss resort town of St Moritz in the late 1800s, when bobsleigh and skeleton also started to emerge.
Germany are by far the most successful team in the history of Olympic luge, before the separate results of West and East Germany are even factored in. They have been so dominant that in Sochi 2014, gold was won in every event - though that run could not be replicated four years later. At the 2002 and 2006 Games, the entire podium was made up of athletes from the country in the women’s singles.
Despite Team GB’s immense success in skeleton over recent decades, that skillset has not transferred over to luge, but Rupert Staudinger will line up for his second Games.
12 medals are on offer at the Olympics across the men’s and women’s singles, the men’s doubles and the team relay, with 106 quota spots available. These are secured as a country, before the National Olympic Committees make their nominations for selection.

What is luge?

The sister sport of skeleton, luge is essentially the opposite. Athletes race down an ice track on a small sled, lying on their back feet first (as opposed to skeleton, which is on their front and head first).
The first recognised meeting was in 1883 in the Swiss town of Davos and it made its Olympic debut at the Innsbruck Games in 1964.
Luge athletes have four runs at the course over two days - the quickest cumulative time wins gold. The key is making a strong start with the push, with athletes sprinting as fast as they can before diving on to the sled - which in itself requires a strong technique.

Luge medal prospects

Despite their pedigree in skeleton over the past 20 years or so, Team GB does not have serious medal prospects. Rupert Staudinger, born and bred in Germany to a British mother and German father, will go to a second Games, having finished 33rd in Pyeongchang.
Instead, the focus will be on Germany - the most successful country in luge’s Olympic history.
Natalie Geisenberger has won the women’s title over the past two Games in Sochi and Pyeongchang, also collecting relay gold. With a bronze from Vancouver 2010 as well, she needs one more medal to equal the all-time record of six medals set by Italy’s Armin Zoggeler.
Geisenberger will be the athlete to beat and she may feel refreshed, having returned to the sport after a break to have a baby.
Compatriot Felix Loch is chasing the same achievement but he starts with a one medal disadvantage. He surprisingly did not pick up a medal at Pyeongchang, after a mistake on the final run saw him squander the lead he had from the first three attempts. Instead, Austria’s David Gleirscher took the gold.
Germany are also favourites in the relay, where Geisenberger and Loch will be involved, while Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt are the men’s doubles champions.

Luge events and format

Natalie Geisenberger and Johannes Ludwig celebrate relay gold at Pyeongchang 2018

Image credit: Getty Images

Luge has the most expansive, and arguably progressive, events programme of any of the Olympic sports.
The format is simple - across the men’s and women’s singles, athletes complete four runs and the quickest cumulative total wins.
The men’s doubles takes place over a single day and involves just two runs, while in the relay, the lowest overall time is counted after there has been a single run each of women’s singles, men’s singles and men’s doubles. This will be the third time the mixed team relay will make an Olympic appearance following its debut at Sochi 2014.
The competition takes place over six days at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, between February 5-10, 2022.

Who won the last Olympic gold and what is the world record?

All venues are different so there is not a world record, but in the men’s singles athlete race over 1,365 meters and it is 1,065 meters for the women’s singles and men’s doubles in Beijing.
Austria’s David Gleirscher was the only non-German to win a gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games, when he capitalised on a Felix Loch mistake to take the title.
Natalie Geisenberger retained her women’s title, as did Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt in the men’s doubles.
Geisenberger, Wendl, Arlt and Johannes Ludwig combined to take the relay gold.

Luge rules

Athletes suit up in a aerodynamic kit, involving a helmet, gloves and boots with sleds ranging between 23-27kg in weight. Sleds are typically shaped to match the natural contours of the body, whereas a skeleton version is flatter.
Men must weigh at least 90kg, for women it is 75kg+. Sleds cannot have any sort of brake on them, and the sled’s blades cannot be heated either - there is evidence to suggest this would give it an advantage.
In terms of competition it is simple - lowest cumulative time wins.

What’s the difference between luge, skeleton and bobsleigh?

German great Felix Loch is consoled after a mistake cost him gold in Pyeongchang

Image credit: Getty Images

Luge and skeleton are incredibly closely related. Both share pretty much the same rules and competition formats are the same. The key difference is how an athlete lies on a sled - in luge, it is on the back and feet first, while skeleton is the opposite - lying on their front and head first.
Bobsleigh is a different animal altogether, but uses the same sliding track - these sleds are contained though, and are more like motor racing on ice.

What speeds do the sleds get to in luge?

There is an argument that luge is the fastest of the sliding sports, but there are not many differences between luge and skeleton. Luge maybe just edges, with speeds getting up to 145 km/h, and you cannot blame the skeleton athletes for feeling a little bit more willing to let go when they are hurtling down head first.
The Guinness World Record for ‘street’ luge is 164 km/h.

How does steering work in luge?

There are no handles or brakes in luge, so athletes use their own bodies to shift the centre of gravity to move the sled. This means they have to have extremely strong calves to put pressure on one of the blades/runners and have decent movement in their shoulders, too.
Where possible, athletes need to let the sled do the work - the slider has mostly done theirs with a quick and powerful start, then it is about trying to minimise the tinkering as much as possible. The more tweaks, the slower the sled.

How dangerous is luge?

Athletes are subjected to a G-force five times higher than the usual amount, so the pressure on their body is huge. Reaching average speeds of up to 140-145 km/h down a track made of ice carries its own obvious risks - and bad injuries have been known.
There is also the issue of human error, as seen at the Beijing test event, although this is rare. Mateusz Sochowicz of Poland suffered serious leg injuries when he crashed into a barrier which had not been opened from a different sliding event.

How long is the luge track at the Olympics?

This varies depending on the event - but the men’s singles at Beijing 2022 has a track which is 1,365 metres in length, while the women’s singles and men’s doubles is reduced to 1,065 metres.
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