Skeleton is safer than luge.
No, seriously. Sliding around an icy, curving mountain headfirst on a sleigh is – slightly – safer than sliding around on your back.
At the World Championships heading into the Olympics, the luge winner averaged 81.3 mph –almost 10 miles faster than skeleton at 71.9 mph.
Luge, because of the sled and the position of the athlete, is more aerodynamic than skeleton.
Both sleighs need to be as streamlined, light and smooth as possible to maximize speed. The heavier the sled, the more the friction of the sleigh will slow the athlete down as they travel down the ice.
Luge sleighs are intentionally barebones, made of fiberglass and steel to clock in between 50 to 60 pounds.
With its additional saddle to strap the athlete in and bumpers to reduce the shock of hitting the wall, skeleton sleighs can be significantly heavier – up to 90 pounds for the men and 70 pounds for women.
The blades at the bottom of the skeleton sleigh don’t help either. They’re duller than their luge counterparts and the athletes instead rely on knives along the bottom that help grip the ice and change direction.
But the difference in speed stems mainly from the position.
Laying down helmet first, like in skeleton, creates more drag than laying feet first like in luge. The wind going against the athlete has more surface area to hit and slow them down.
In luge, going toes first minimizes that potential drag area and allows the athlete to use gravity going downhill to build up speed.
But there is one similarity that helps both sports reach top speeds over 90 miles per hour – neither sleds come with brakes.