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Luge was first held at the Olympics in 1964.


Winter Olympics

TORINO, Italy (CNN) -- The oldest sleds yet found were discovered in the Oslo fjord region and date back to 800 AD.

The first reference to a sport similar to what we recognize as luge is found in Germany in the 1600s but it took another 300 years for the first proper courses to be built, in Switzerland. Luge made its Olympic debut in 1964 in Innsbruck.

How it is done

Competition is divided into singles and doubles. In men's and women's singles at Olympic level, competitors must complete four runs over two days. The times are added and the lowest aggregate score wins. At other levels of competition, including world championships, only two runs are held.

There are two runs held over one day in the doubles event, with the winner being the team with the lowest aggregate. There is no rule that states a team must comprise members of the same sex. All events are held on the same course, but the starting point for the women's singles is further down the course than that of the men's.

Athletes seated in the luge grab handles in the starting block and rock back and forwards to build momentum before propelling themselves onto the course. Still seated, they continue pushing themselves forwards along the ice using spiked gloves before lying back to complete the course.

What makes it hard

Luge is among the most dangerous of all the Winter Olympic sports. Athletes hurtle down the course at speeds of up to 135 kilometers per hour with no brakes. The only way to steer is by deftly adding pressure -- using their feet -- to devices attached to the curved steel rods at the front of the luge.

Competitors must navigate curves, circles and straight runs, requiring the slider to choose the best line to take to ensure the quickest time. The start is crucial, as the most aerodynamic position must be adopted as soon as possible. Only fractions of a second separate the elite athletes at this level.

The course in Torino is 1,435 meters long with a drop of 114 meters and 19 bends -- 11 left-hand and eight right-hand.

Decoding the Jargon

You may hear some unfamiliar terms in the expert commentary of the luge at the Games. Here is what some of them mean:

Slider: A luge competitor, less commonly referred to as a luger.

Paddle: The action a slider employs to propel themselves forward using spiked gloves on the ice at the start of a run

Kufens: The mechanisms attached to the curved steel runners at the front of the luge that allow the slider to steer.

Lip: A protective barrier at the top of the track that prevents the sled from crashing off the course.

Labyrinth: A stretch of track made up entirely of a series of left and right curves with no straight section in between. At the Torino course, this is from turn six.

Which means you can sound like an expert by saying: "She could shave another couple of hundredths of her time if she was stronger on the paddle."

Did you know?

The first international sled race, held in 1883 in Switzerland over four kilometres from Davos to Klosters, was won jointly by a student all the way from Australia and a mailman from Klosters itself.

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