Luge, skeleton and bobsleigh (or bobsled) are all ice sports that derive from sled racing, one of the oldest of winter sports, which has its origins in Switzerland. As competitive sports they have been late to develop in New Zealand because of the lack of suitable venues. In 2008 the southern hemisphere’s first snow-and-ice luge track opened at Naseby, Central Otago, creating opportunities for New Zealanders to gain skills locally.
In luge, competitors slide down a twisting track on a light one- or two-person sled, lying face up and with their feet in front of them. They steer the sled by shifting their weight and flexing the sled’s runners with their calves. The sport is extremely fast – lugers can reach speeds of over 150 kilometres per hour. Lugers compete against the clock and are timed to a thousandth of a second. Luge events were first included in the Winter Olympics in 1964.
New Zealanders who trained overseas began participating in international luge events in 1987. Angela Paul, who reached the top 10 in world championship events, competed in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. Because New Zealand’s luge track is not constructed to Olympic standards, the New Zealand Olympic Luge Association is working with the International Luge Federation to ensure that New Zealand lugers regularly train and compete overseas. In 2012 Matheson Hill competed at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria.
Thrilling and addictive
Louise Corcoran, 2013 New Zealand representative skeleton racer, described her first international race: ‘I finished last and had two black eyes and a body of bumps and bruises, but the rush of race day nerves and the desire to get from the top of the track to the bottom faster than my previous run was thrilling and addictive’.1
In skeleton, an individual rides a small sled down a track, lying face down, head first. The sport is named after the small, stripped-down sled which resembles a human skeleton. It is steered using torque provided by the head and shoulders, and competitors reach speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour. Like lugers, skeleton racers compete against the clock. Skeleton was officially added to the Winter Olympics in 2002, and male and female New Zealand skeleton racers competed in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Bruce Sandford was world champion in 1992, and 20 years later his nephew Ben Sandford won the bronze medal at the 2012 championships.
In bobsleigh events, a team of two or four people make timed runs down a track on an enclosed sled, which weighs several hundred kilograms. Teams consist of a pilot, a brakeman and (in four-man teams) two pushers. Athletes need considerable strength to push the sled at the beginning of the race. The bobsleds can reach speeds of 150 kilometres per hour. Bobsleigh was included in the first Winter Olympics in 1924. New Zealand two- and four-man teams participated in 1988, 2002 and 2006, and a two-man team in 1998.