Saint Moritz, Swiss Alps, Winter Olympics discussed on Kottke Ride Home
On the same page here. A brief differentiation of the three. Bobsled is the one from cool runnings, where athletes are in an almost car looking vehicle that they have to push before they all jump in it and ride down the course. In luge, the individual athlete starts the race already on the sled, which is flat and not at all car like in bobsled. It just looks like a more professional version of the sled you may have grown up riding down hills on on snow days. They lie on the sled on their back feet first down the course. And while bobsled comes in two and four person events in the Olympics luge is usually solo, although there is a two person version called double luge in which the second person literally just lays on top of the first, and it is the absolute best thing to watch. Now, skeleton, meanwhile, looks a lot like luge in that it is one person on a similarly shaped sled, but they are on their belly and going down head first. They also have to run about 40 meters and jump into position on the sled at the start of the race. Instead of starting already on the sled, like in luge. In both luge and skeleton, athletes can reach speeds of up to 90 miles an hour. But how did we get to this point? As Atlas obscura points out, the sled as a functional item goes back centuries. In places with snow and hills, they were highly effective vehicles for transporting very large, heavy objects. It wouldn't be until later that the sled came to be used as a pastime. A lot of sports that are now included in the Winter Olympics had their start in the Scandinavian military, taking activities that were a part of military strategy like skiing and shooting and turning them into competitions with each other when they weren't fighting. Luge and the other sled sports are a bit different. It is possible that sleds were used in a military context back in a 103 BCE by a northern Germanic tribe who slid down a mountain on the backs of their shields to attack the Romans and failed at its that could just be a made up legend, but it does emphasize an important point. Up until about the late 1800s, sleds were thought of as un steerable. You could go down a hill really fast on one, but you didn't have too much control over where you would end up down that hill. That changed towards the end of the 19th century. At two resort towns in the Swiss Alps. Davos and saint Moritz started as popular summer resorts for aristocrats from around Europe and North America. But soon decided to open in the winter as well, and the rich folks spending time there needed some way to keep themselves occupied. So they started sledding, or as they called it there at the time, tobogganing, possibly due to influence from the algonquin language and visiting Canadians. Quoting Atlas obscura. This early period of winter sports creation in the Alps drew English men and Americans. In broad strokes, the Americans brought the equipment and the English men brought the ceremony. It was these tourists who, when they weren't skiing, took sleds down the picturesque mountains, often write down the main roads in town, which seems to have been very annoying for the townspeople and great fun for the tourists. Of all the varied kinds of sport which men in their incessant search after amusement have discovered, those which have taken the most lasting hold and attained the greatest perfection appeared to be the various forms of rapid motion upon earth or water in which one man's strength or skill can be tested against another's rights, Theodore Andrea cook in notes on tobogganing at saint Moritz. Saint Moritz is probably the birthplace of the lineage that gave us luge. According to some accounts, it was in Davos that toboggan races had been held to the great entertainment of tourists in the early 1880s. Hotel operators in nearby saint Moritz took notice, and according to the saint Moritz tobogganing club in the winter of 1884 through 1885, 5 guests at the kom hotel formed an outdoor amusements committee and built a sled racing course to compete with Davos. This course was known as the cresta run quote. Originally made of snow as sleds developed to have metal runners and steering mechanisms, the cresta run was noted to get run down pretty quickly from these heavier sleds. And when it got run down, it hardened, pretty much into ice. But that's when people noticed that on ice, they could go even faster. And that is when sled runs started being intentionally made from ice, increasing speeds and danger exponentially. I would say this is probably when sled runs went from a fun afternoon activity where you chuckle at your friend's wiping out while you day drink on the sidelines to a much more serious competition. The cresta run at saint Moritz and nearby resort towns across the Swiss Alps. These sled activities steadily evolved into luge skeleton and bobsled, leading to the first federation of sled sports in 1913. And when the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924, four man bobsled was on the roster. Skeleton debuted at the next games, but luge wouldn't be added until 1964 in part due to a sort of back and forth in popularity between skeleton and luge. But especially as the sports have developed from their humble wooden sled beginnings at saint Moritz to the 90 mile an hour aerodynamic battle between latex and ice tracks. How do people actually stay on course? And frankly stay alive while hurtling down the course faster than most cars drive on the freeway. John Eric Goff Professor of physics at the university of Lynchburg, who focuses on the physics of sports, answered just that recently in a piece in the conversation. Most of it is down to gravity, the mile long courses drop about 400 feet as athletes speed down the course. But to get more specific, quoting goth riders in the sledding events reach their fast speeds because of the conversion of gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy. Gravitational potential energy represents stored energy and increases as an object is raised farther from earth's surface. The potential energy is converted to another form of energy once the object starts falling, kinetic energy is the energy of motion. The reason of flying baseball will shatter the glass if it hits a window is that the ball transfers its kinetic energy to the glass. Both gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy increase as weight increases, meaning there is more energy in a four person bobsled team than there is in a one person luge or skeleton for a given speed. Racers are dealing with a lot of kinetic energy and strong forces. When athletes enter a turn at 80 miles an hour, they experience accelerations that can reach 5 times that of normal gravitational acceleration. Because they're all going down the same course, the key to winning, which is often a difference of .0 something seconds. Lies in having a fast start taking the shortest path down the course, and then as aerodynamic as possible. Goth explains, quote, while gravity pulls the athletes in their sleds downhill, they are constantly colliding with air particles that create a force called air drag, which pushes back on the athletes and sleds in a direction opposite to their velocity. The more aerodynamic and athlete or team is the greater the speed. To minimize drag from the air, luge riders, who face up, lie as flat as possible. Downward facing skeleton riders do the same. Whether in a team of two or four, bobsled riders stay tucked tightly inside the sled to reduce the area available for air to smash into. Any body positioning mistakes can make athletes less aerodynamic and lead to tiny increases in time that can cost them a medal, and these mistakes are tough to correct at the high accelerations and forces of a run. As far as hitting that shortest run down the track, that is done by keeping the sled as straight on course as possible, which also reduces drag. Athletes do this by steering. In the case of bobsled, the front rider has rings that turn the runners, the steel blades that the sled sits on. Curved bows at the front of the sled can be affected by the athlete flexing their calves. They can also steer by moving their head and shoulders. Skeleton athletes have to rely on even fewer movements to direct their sled. It is all incredibly precise with potentially dangerous consequences for getting it even slightly wrong, which is one reason why Christina karrueche over at slate recently declared luge to be the slipperiest of all winter sports. Karaoke's premise lied in the fact that winter sports can basically all be boiled down to slipping around on frozen surfaces and trying not to fall. Which is not wrong. That's basically what all those bored rich folks at the Swiss resorts and board Scandinavian military men were doing when they invented the recreational and competitive forms of all of these now Olympic sports. Just having a bit of fun on some ice.