Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Need For Speed

by Leigh Cove
Algonquin College Sport Business Management Intern

Ask Canadian luger Alex Gough what drew her to the sport and you will probably get an answer along the lines of, “I wanted to go fast.” Actually, ask the question to any of Canada’s 28 sliding athletes and odds are good you will get the same response.

Even with a track specifically designed to accelerate athletes to speeds of 135km/h, and curve patterns where sliders can experience up to five G-forces, the desire of these daredevil athletes is to go fast and keep going faster.

Winter sliding sports (bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge) are all similar in their basics concepts. Each begins with an athlete(s) and their sled at a starting gate, with much of a sliders final time being determined by the speed of their starting push off. Once they trigger the clock and leave the starting zone sliders seemingly let gravity takeover as they hurtle toward the bottom.

Within the first 250m sliders are already reaching speeds of 80km/h, and their time is recorded after athletes cross the finishing sensor. Both slider(s) and their sled must cross the finishing line for their time to count, but the slider doesn’t necessarily have to be in the sled.

Despite what it may seem like, sliders do have control over their sleds. Steering these sleds takes incredible strength and control. When traveling at such high speeds it only takes the slightest movements to get a dramatic change that can mean a gold medal run, or a bone jarring crash.

Balance of Speed and Control:

BOBSLEIGH -The sled has brakes attached to its back runners manned by a brakeman and a steering mechanism of ropes connected to pivoting front runners controlled by a pilot. Newer bobsleds are being designed using Formula One racing technology to increase aerodynamics and cut down on crucial seconds.

SKELETON - Skeleton sleds do not have breaks! Sliders steer by twisting their body in the bow of the sled. The sleds used in skeleton are heavier than their luge counterparts to enhance sliding; the difference can be up to 20 kg.

LUGE - Run times for competitors are so fast and close they are measured to the thousandths of a second. Lugers use their shoulders to help stabilize the sled, while they use their legs to steer the runners, changing how they grip the ice.

Those athletes who choose to compete in bobsleigh, luge, or skeleton run a fine line between maintaining control and losing it every time they launch themselves down an icy track. However athletes continue to slide down again and again because greater than risks, is their need for speed.

References available from SIRC collection: 

1. Berton E, Favier D, Agnès A, Pous F. Aerodynamic Optimization of a Bobsleigh Configuration. International Journal Of Applied Sports Sciences. June 2004;16(1):1-13. 
2. Bullock N, Gulbin J, Martin D, Ross A, Holland T, Marino F. Talent identification and deliberate programming in skeleton: Ice novice to Winter Olympian in 14 months. Journal Of Sports Sciences. February 15, 2009;27(4):397-404. 
3. Lars E. Sports injuries and illnesses during the Winter Olympic Games 2010. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. September 2010;44(11):772-780. 
4. Lembert S, Schachner O, Raschner C. Development of a measurement and feedback training tool for the arm strokes of high-performance luge athletes. Journal Of Sports Sciences. December 2011;29(15):1593-1601. 
5. Platzer H, Raschner C, Patterson C. Performance-determining physiological factors in the luge start. Journal Of Sports Sciences. February 2009;27(3):221-226. 
6. Seiler S. Same Citius,Altius, Fortius ... More Women, Crashes, and McTwists?. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance. January 2014;9(1):122-127.

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