A spectator's guide to the Luge Worlds 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE, TOURISM WHISTLER - FAST TRACK Despite the lower start gates, athletes are expected to break 140km/h this weekend as the Whistler Sliding Centre hosts the luge World Championships.
  • photo by mike crane, tourism whistler
  • FAST TRACK Despite the lower start gates, athletes are expected to break 140km/h this weekend as the Whistler Sliding Centre hosts the luge World Championships.

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It takes years for athletes to learn to use their legs to steer the runners on their sleds, how to corner properly and how to deal with gravitational forces that top out around 5g — the equivalent of having four times your own body weight pressing down on you. To put that into perspective, astronauts blasting into space on a Soyuz rocket experience 3.6 to 4.2g.

Starts are extremely important, and athletes spend years practicing their pulls so they can snap out of the gates with as much speed and power as possible.

Each leg rests on the outside of a runner, and by exerting force onto the runners an athlete can steer their sled through the icy corners. The goal is to follow the fastest line and to carry the most speed out of corners and features, while avoiding bumping into the walls or other mistakes that can cost an athlete speed.

Races can be extremely close, which is why timing is in the thousands of a second versus hundredths of a second for other sports like ski racing.

Athletes can see down the course while they're racing, but athletes spend a lot of time training and studying courses as well, so they can make split second decisions as they go.

Who will be watching?

The audience for luge and the other sliding sports is relatively small in Canada, but is growing thanks to a strong Olympic performance and the increased number of events hosted in North America since the Whistler Sliding Centre was built. Now, in combination with Calgary, Lake Placid and Salt Lake City, there are enough tracks to host a North American leg of the World Cup Tour.

The race events will be broadcast worldwide, and are a big draw for Eurosport. Last season the European audience was 400 million across 59 countries, with Germans accounting for 320 million of those viewers over nine events.

The World Championship is an annual event, but this is the last one before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and athletes will be looking to earn quota spots and lock up their own spots in the Games.

The men's doubles start at 3 p.m. on Friday, followed by the men's individual races at 5:15 p.m. The women race at 3 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the team relay at 6:15 p.m.

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