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Watching the Luge World Cup

Top athletes converge at Whistler Sliding Centre

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That said, it's a high-speed sport and — depending on the track — the fastest of all three sliding sports. It's also the sport where athletes have the highest degree of control, steering with their legs as they shoot feet-first on their backs down the track, and crashes can happen due to driver error and other factors. At Whistler Sliding Centre, the top speed ever recorded was over 154km/h, posted by Austrian racer Manuel Pfister in training before the Games. That's almost 20km/h faster than the designers predicted as the track's top speed.

After the fatality, FIL moved the starts for the men's and women's luge to a lower gate, resulting in slower speeds through the bottom of the track. The FIL has mandated that the lower starts be used for the World Cup until some additional changes can be made to the women's start. As well, when Whistler hosts the World Championships in 2013, athletes will be given additional training runs.

Is there prize money?

Over the World Cup season, the FIL will award 220,000 Euros ($300,282) to athletes, split between all four disciplines (men's and women's singles, doubles and team relay) over nine events. There's an additional 30,000 Euros ($40,947) at the final race, which doubles as the world championship.

How do you win?

The luge athlete with the fastest combined time after two runs wins (it's four runs at the Olympics and three at a world championship).

At the start of a run, athletes want to get off to a fast start. They sit their sleds and pull themselves through the start gate, which means athletes focus a lot on arm and back strength. The fastest pull can sometimes win the race.

But a lot happens on course as well. Facing gravitational forces that exceed what most fighter pilots endure, athletes can subtly steer the runners on the sleds with their calves and shoulders into the optimal or fastest line. Athletes have to anticipate corners, and try to stay low on the wall and steer out early so they don't bump the opposite wall and lose speed. Crashes do happen as a result of over and under-steering.

are athletes using the same gear?

FIL, the International Luge Federation, mandates sled designs up to a point. They must weigh a certain amount — between 21 and 25 kilograms for a single's sled. Depending on the track, FIL sometimes allows athletes to carry extra weight.