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Winter Olympics 101: Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton

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By Alicia Dziak

While football fans around here eagerly await Sunday’s playoff game, fans of every other winter sport have something else to look forward to this winter: the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. In just a few short weeks, on Feb. 9, the Opening Ceremonies will air from PyeongChang, South Korea on NBC, followed by more than two weeks of fast-paced, international athletic competition.

Over the years, new events have been added to the Winter Olympics lineup. With teams still being finalized, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the upcoming excitement so you can tune into your favorite events.

Bobsled

Bobsled (a.k.a. bobsleigh) involves a high-speed descent on controlled sledges (bobs). Olympic bobsleigh competition consists of four runs held over a two-day period. Medals are awarded based on the total time over the four runs, with the winner having the lowest overall time.

Three events make up the Olympic bobsleigh program: two-man bobsled competition (introduced in 1924), four-man bobsleigh competition (introduced in 1932) and women’s bobsled competition (two women on a team, introduced in 1999, with first competition in 2002).

These events utilize a bob-driven sleigh, consisting of a main hull, a frame, a front and rear axle, and two sets of independent steel runners. Competitors wear a specially-made, high-tech plastic composite helmet and shoes with spikes on the soles for traction during the push start. Athletes sit upright and the driver controls the sled with his hands and fingers, using rings that are attached to a steering mechanism by ropes.

Bobsled events begin on Feb. 18.

Luge

Luge, first appearing in the Winter Olympics in 1964, is considered to be one of the most dangerous Olympic winter sports, and involves sliding at high speeds on single- or two-person sleds.

In this event, the athlete starts in a seated position, and after pushing off, lies down on the sled with their feet stretched out in front of them. The rider steers the sled by moving his or her center of gravity, and the fastest time wins.

Riders wear specially designed suits to reduce wind resistance, luge gloves that are spiked, helmets with clear or tinted visors that extend under the chin, and special shoes that typically have firm, smooth outer soles.

There are three classes of Olympic competition: singles men, singles women and doubles. Men and women compete on the same track, but the women’s starting line is farther down the course. Individual competitions for men and women in the single sleigh are held for two days with two runs per day. The four times are added together and the fastest total time determines the winner.

The men’s double luge is a one-day competition, in which the fastest total time of two runs determines the winner. There is no written rule that says a team must be comprised of members of the same sex, but men traditionally ride together.

The 2014 Olympic Games sports program in Sochi added a relay competition for the first time, which consists of combination teams from each country: a woman (singles luge), a man (singles luge) and two men from the doubles luge. The runs sequence for each team is woman-man-doubles. During the relay, each athlete must touch the special touchpad at the finish, which automatically opens the in-run gate for the next team member. When the third member of the team reaches the exchange zone and hits the touchpad, this will determine the team’s total time.

Luge events begin Feb. 10.

Skeleton

Skeleton had twice been included in the Olympic Winter Games in Switzerland, the country where it originated, at the Games in St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948. However, it was not an official Olympic event until the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Skeleton involves a descent on a special track in a sled with steel runners and a weighted frame, and the athlete lays face down and head first, controlling the sled using special spikes on their shoes. The Olympic skeleton competition lasts for two days and each athlete completes a total of four runs. Medals are awarded based on fastest total time over the four runs. In this event, there are only two sets of medals, singles competitions for men and women.

Participants wear special leather gloves, durable helmets, a track suit made of elastic fabric to tightly encircle the body, and shoes that have spikes on the soles.

Skeleton events begin Feb. 15.

Get ready to cheer Team USA on to victory— mark your calendars so you don’t miss all your favorite events! For more information, visit www.pyeongchang2018.com or www.nbcolympics.com.

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