After American luge athlete Emily Sweeney had a frightening crash on Tuesday at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, those watching the Olympics are probably wondering whether luge is particularly dangerous. Luge, like all sports, can be risky, though PyeongChang's track has an especially tricky curve that, while manageable, certainly could add to the already substantial risk athletes take when they compete in the luge event.
Luge, like many other sports, comes with inherent hazards. According to Victor Mather of the New York Times, the sport can be described as "sledding [on ice] at 90 miles per hour." However, while the idea of luge can sound intimidating to some, many lugers believe that it is merely just another elite sport in which accidents are certainly possible, but something that must be accepted as part of competing.
As American luge athlete Summer Britcher told USA Today Sports, "Everyone competing at this level is extremely talented, but accidents do happen ... It’s the nature of the sport, of any sport at a high level.” However, Britcher also acknowledged the particular risks of luge, adding “It is dangerous ... We’re going 80 miles per hour with a helmet on down an ice track.” Ulla Zirne, a luger from Latvia, echoed similar sentiments via the outlet, saying "It is luge. It [crashes] happens ... So I know it happens. I’ve been there myself. I know what it means ..."
In PyeongChang, the ninth curve, or turn, on the luge track has proven particularly challenging for athletes. According to NBC, Curve 9 is a 45-degree turn that propels athletes to the right before forcing them to adjust to the left as they exit the turn. This reportedly requires a great deal of tactical maneuvering and, if done incorrectly, can severely hamper the athlete's luge run.
As Deadspin reported, the biggest challenge for lugers is successfully emerging from the curve, not the curve itself. American luger Tucker West described the tricky exit from the curve, saying, “The walls will kind of jump out and bite you, instead of you jumping out to bite them.” West also expounded on the curve's difficulty to USA Today, saying, “Curve 9 is probably the hardest transition in all of luge, bobsled, skeleton on any track in the world."
Prior to competing, Sweeney also reflected on the curve's unique challenges in an interview with the Associated Press. Reporter Tim Reynolds noted that Sweeney indicated that the turn was “like driving on a slanted road, but having your car getting pulled in a direction away from the way you’re steering.”
Indeed, as Business Insider reported, several Olympic lugers have faced serious challenges because of Curve 9. It is the curve on which Sweeney had her scary crash on Tuesday. Austrian luger Birgit Platzer also fell on the curve, going airborne from the impact. Both Sweeney and Platzer did not suffer any severe injuries.
In addition to causing athletes to crash, Curve 9 has also significantly impacted competition results for some. As the Washington Post reported, Germany's Felix Loch, a two-time men's singles gold medalist in luge, bumped into a wall on Curve 9 during his final run in the competition, causing him to lose time and pushing him into fifth place — out of medal contention.
While the singles luge events are now complete, as Deadspin reported, many other athletes will be encountering Curve 9 over the next few days. Bobsled, skeleton, and luge all use the same track and, thus, many athletes will still be seeking to master the challenging turn. And, as luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer told NBC, the athletes that do manage to master the curve will likely have the best shot at winning a medal at the games.