Most people are probably familiar with the big-hit sports and athletes of the Winter Olympics (such as skiing, snowboarding, hockey), but this year's Winter Games in Sochi are providing not just an opportunity to get to know some of the lesser-known athletes, but also sports that don't make so many headlines the rest of the year. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll highlight some of the more obscure discplines as we lead up to the Opening Ceremonies on February 7.
First up? Luge and skeleton racing! As in, what the heck is the difference between the two?
The two sports are very similar, including the fact that they are nerve-wracking to watch (seriously, have you ever seen a skeleton racer zoom down an icy track with his or her face literally millimeters from the ground?). They're both typically single-person sports (though lugers can work in pairs) and both sports of speed that require lightning-fast reflexes. Times are tracked by the one-hundreth of a second, and the riders with the lowest scores win. Drivers are trying to move "cleanly" through the track, because bumping into the sides of the track and clanging around will only slow them down.
The main difference between the two sports is that lugers zoom down the track feet-first on a curved fiberglass sled, with face and feet up. Skeleton racers race on their stomachs, facing forward. Additionally, their sleds are much heavier and thinner. Interestingly enough, skeleton racing is thought to be the safer of the two sports because it's easier for skeleton racers to use very fine movements to control their sled, thus lessening the chance of accidents. Lugers primarily steer by pressing their legs on fiberglass "runners" at the base of the sled. [Tweet this crazy fact!]. Neither sled includes brakes, though, and the sports are both known as being very dangerous. Lastly, there are two skeleton racing events in the Olympics (individual men's and women's) while there are four luge events (men's singles, women's singles, doubles, and relay).
SHAPE had the chance to sit down with U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace (she's known as the "fastest mom on ice"...click here to find out why!), who started out as a track and field athlete, then moved to bobsledding, then finally found her home in skeleton racing. When asked why she was drawn to the sport, she said, "I fell in love with it. I stuck with it...the thrill of going 80 to 90 miles an hour, headfirst on your stomach with your chin just an inch off the ice...how could you not like it?"
Well, there you have it! Now if someone asks you about the nuances between the two sports, you'll be able to talk confidently about them. Tell us: Are you excited to watch the Winter Olympics? Let us know in the comments below or Tweet us @Shape_Magazine!