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Luge vs. Skeleton Racing: What's the Difference?

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skeleton-vs-luge.jpgPhoto: Lars Baron / Staff / Getty Images

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 Pyeongchang are providing an opportunity to get to know some of the lesser-known athletes—and also sports that don't make so many headlines the rest of the year. (Keep an eye out for these 12 female athletes who are totally badass and these Team USA hotties who are basically melting the snow around them.)

Two of the most underrated sports? Luge and skeleton racing. And, no, you're not the only one thinking, "What the heck is the difference between the two?" 

The two sports are very similar, including the fact that they are nerve-racking 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 are sports of speed that require lightning-fast reflexes. Times are tracked by the one-hundredth 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. 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). (Next up: 5 Extreme Winter Sports That Put Skiing to Shame)

Sound insane? Not to U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace (who's known as the "fastest mom on ice" and scored a silver medal at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games). She 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?"

Tempting—but we'll stick with winter hikes and fat biking, instead.

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