Part of the Winter Olympics’ appeal is the huge variety of sports and events on show.
At one end of the spectrum is the strategic, slow-burning, tactical battle of curling.
At the opposite end are the ice sliding sports which see daredevil riders hurling themselves down a winding ice track on tray-like sleds at 90mph.
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Luge, skeleton and bobsleigh are thrilling to watch – especially now we have the ability to view head-cam POV footage of what riders see as they negotiate their runs at such incredible speeds.
Bobsleigh in particular has been in the limelight in the lead-up to Beijing 2022 with Greg Rutherford’s ambitious attempt to qualify as part of Team GB’s four-man sleigh team.
The London 2012 long jump champion was not selected, however.
Viewers of the Beijing Games would be forgiven for confusing their luge with their skeleton, their bobsleigh with their monobob. So what is the difference? And why is the new monobob a women-only event?

Bobsleigh

There are two disciplines in men’s bobsleigh - two-man and four-man – while the women’s competition features the two-woman event as well as the new monobob, making its debut in Beijing.
All of bobsleigh, skeleton and luge involve hurtling down ice tracks, reaching extremely high speeds, using a strong start, gravity and deft steering to clock the quickest times possible.
They also all use the same tracks, but with different start points.
While skeleton and luge involve lying on a sled, somewhat exposed, bobsleigh sees competitors sit together in a specially engineered, mechanically steered and braked sleigh with a protective nose and sides.

Lamin Deen, Sam Blanchet, Luke Dawes, Greg Rutherford of the United Kingdom compete in the 4-man Bobsleigh during the IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup

Image credit: Getty Images

Competitors work together to build as much speed as possible at the top of the course before jumping into the sleigh together, building to speeds of up to 100mph.
Because of the importance of a rapid start, Great Britain has included many explosive sprinters over the past few decades. Greg Rutherford’s skills from his long jumping career were transferable because of the acceleration and power needed to generate down the run up to the sand pit.
Two handles are attached to pieces of rope so that the front runner can be manoeuvred to the curvature of the course and there are also brakes at the back. Margins are incredibly fine, so keeping an effective race line is important.
All courses are different, so there is no world record time as such. The format usually sees riders compete across four heats, with the lowest cumulative time winning gold – the same format as luge and skeleton.
Bobsleigh earned its name from the bobbing back-and-forth motion competitors started using to build speed back in the 19th century in Switzerland, where the first races were held.

Why is the monobob only for women?

It was not until 2002 that women were invited to compete in the bobsleigh at the Olympics, even then only in the two-woman event.
The idea behind the new monobob is accessibility. Whereas other bobsleighs are customisable within certain restrictions, all monobobs have to be exactly the same.
This means that money is not so much of a factor – it levels the playing field. In men’s bobsleigh, the teams with more funding can pay engineers huge sums to manufacture the most aerodynamic sleigh possible and get an advantage over their competitors.
In the monobob, it all comes down to an individual rider’s skill and power and nothing else. Imagine an F1 championship where everyone was racing in exactly the same car – the starting grid would be given an almighty shuffle.
A single rider event also means countries only need to train and fund one athlete, making it much more accessible.

Luge

Luge sees competitors take to the ice track lying on their backs, feet-first on a metal sled that is subtly shaped to align to the contours of the body.
There is a maximum sled weight of 27kg and its small size means riders’ legs hang off the edge as they reach speeds of about 90mph, using only their bodyweight to steer.
And as if that all sounds a bit too safe and risk-free, there are also no brakes to speak of.

Rupert Staudinger of Team Great Britain slides during the men's singles luge run 3 on day two of the Beijing 2022 Games

Image credit: Getty Images

The men’s singles luge track at Beijing is 1,365m long, while the doubles and women’s singles is slightly shorter.
As with bobsleigh, a powerful sprinting start is key at the top of the tack. Jumping onto the sled into a lying position at such high speeds requires an exceptional amount of skill.
Luge first emerged in St Moritz, Switzerland, as is believed did bobsleigh and skeleton. The first organised event took place in 1883 in the Swiss town of Davos, where competitors raced down a 4km icy road to the village of Klosters.

Skeleton

Skeleton is extremely similar to luge – the key difference being that riders lay front-down, face-first on the sled.
The sleds are heavier and riders reach slightly lower top speeds – still an incredible 87mph or thereabouts – though skeleton is widely considered the more dangerous due to competitors hurtling down the track head-first.
It is thought to be the oldest of the three sliding sports, also originating in Switzerland.
Skeleton is Britain’s second most successful winter Olympic sport (after figure skating) and Medal success in the past two decades has come from Williams, Yarnold, Deas, Shelley Rudman, Dom Parsons and Alex Coomber.

'It's been a disappointing Games, it's a real shame' - Crowley on GB performances in skeleton

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