Like athletes in many of the gravity sports in the Winter Olympics, lugers want to be as aerodynamic as possible to minimize their drag. Once a luger has started sliding, only gravity can increase their speed – every other force, from friction to drag, pulls away valuable time. Luge sleds are built on sharp runners and athletes slide feet-first in a position much more streamlined than the head-first position of skeleton. Both contribute to the much higher speeds in luge – up to 140 kph (87 mph). Luge is also the only sliding sport measured down to thousandths of a second, so every gram of drag* makes a difference. Lugers keep their heads pulled back and wear full helmets to keep the air flow consistent and attached as much as possible. It is also typical for them to spend time in the wind tunnel, testing their sled’s aerodynamics, adjusting their position, and even testing their suits. (Photo credit: S. Botterill)
* For those wondering, yes, drag is a force and a gram is a unit of mass, not force. However, it is not unusual when testing athletes in wind tunnels to compare drag between configurations in terms of grams.
FYFD is celebrating the Games with a series on fluid dynamics in the Winter Olympics. Stay tuned for more!