What are the differences between luge, skeleton and bobsleigh?

Some winter sport disciplines may seem similar but a closer look shows the differences between them are extensive. Do you know your ice dancing from your pairs skating? Could you explain the difference between slopestyle and Big Air? Don’t worry - Olympics.com has you covered with a new series explaining the nuances of the sports you’ll see at Beijing 2022. Next up, luge, skeleton and bobsleigh. 

By Sean McAlister
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

At first glance, you may not think there are many differences between bobsleigh, luge and skeleton. In each event, athletes hurtle down a narrow ice track at extreme speeds in demonstrations of nerveless courage that can leave audiences on the edge of their seats.

However, on closer inspection, these three disciplines have significant differences that make each competition a unique, nail-biting thrill-fest.

Read on to discover the main differences between these three highlights of the Winter Olympics.

What are the differences between the sports?

While all sliding events (luge, skeleton and bobsleigh) will take place on the same 1615m-long track at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, don't be fooled into thinking the spectacle of each competition will be the same.

Luge:

To begin with, luge sees athletes ride down an ice track on a sled, with each sliding down the course feet first, flat on their backs, after an initial start where they propel themselves forward from a seated position by pushing their hands against the ice. The course is expertly navigated by athletes, who shift their weight and angle their descent to turn corners in the fastest time possible, while also maintaining speed and momentum.

Luge athletes average speeds of between 120 and 145 km/h and Beijing 2022 will see 12 medals on offer across men's singles, doubles, women's singles and the team relay events.

Skeleton:

Unlike luge, skeleton athletes begin their runs with a standing start, building up speed by running for around 40 metres before assuming a head-first prone position as they slide down the course at speeds of more than 130 km/h.

Six skeleton medals (two of each colour) are on offer in Beijing, meaning competition for the podium is sure to be fierce. The two events on the skeleton programme are men's singles and women's singles.

Bobsleigh:

Bobsleigh, for its part, has the longest Olympic tradition of all the sliding sports, having featured on every Winter Olympics programme (bar one) since the inception of the Games.

Athletes slide down the course in a seated position in a high-sided sled, after building speed over the first 50 metres or so with a running start. In bobsleigh, athletes steer using ropes inside the sleigh. The athlete at the back can also use brakes to slow the descent - although these are rarely called upon in Olympic competition.

Bobsleigh is traditionally more of a team sport at the Winter Olympics, with two-man and four-man competitions, as well as two-woman events taking their place on the programme. However, for the first time ever, the women's monobob - where riders navigate the course in a single seated bob - will make its debut at the Games.

At a glance - differences between the Olympic luge, skeleton and bobsleigh competitions

Luge competition format:

The luge men's singles, doubles, women's singles and team relay competitions will take place from 5 February - 10 February 2022 at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre. A total of 106 quota spots are available for athletes to qualify to compete in luge at the Games.

Skeleton competition format:

The skeleton men's and women's singles competitions will take place in the same venue from 10 February - 12 February 2022. A total of 50 quota spots are available for athletes to qualify to compete in skeleton at the Games.

Bobsleigh competition format:

The bobsleigh two-man, four-man, two-woman and women's monobob competitions will take place in the same venue from 13 February to 20 February 2022. A maximum of 170 quota spots are available to athletes to compete in bobsleigh at the Games. A maximum 124 men and 46 women may qualify.

Further reading

Olympic bobsleigh at Beijing 2022: Top five things to know

Olympic luge at Beijing 2022: Top five things to know

Olympic skeleton at Beijing 2022: Top five things to know

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