Luge is not the perfect spectator sport

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

PARK CITY, Utah -- Seen any good luge lately?

Don't blink.

Whoops, in the time it has taken you to read this, three sliders have shot down the run.

Note the terminology. They're sliders not lugers. Slide is the activity. Luge and skeleton is what competitors still hope to have with them when they finish.

The luge competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics attracted 69,597 spectators for five days of competition, averaging 13,909 a day, an Olympic record. Friday's doubles finals, where the Americans won silver and bronze, drew a capacity crowd of 15,000.

And here's the weird thing: People shell out at least $70 a ticket, pay parking and then are shuttled to the top of a hill to go through security. Then, they have to walk a mile up an asphalt mountain trail to catch another shuttle bus, which takes them to the luge run at the top of the mountain.

Guess what? Luge experts in this country (which usually means they can spell it) claim the best place to watch luge is at the top of the run, where you may see three or four turns.

So, it's another hike up a another steep slope.

You get to a prime location. It's a rail similar to what you might find at a peguin exhibit at the zoo.

Then, you see it. Your trek has been worth it. Right in front of you, touching distance away -- is a tube of ice. That's pretty much what you see much of the day.

Families smash their piggy banks and dip into their savings and what they end up seeing is a occasional blur that looks like the first photo they ever took.

You line the rail. "Here they come!" someone shouts. You look up.

"Whoosh!" You missed it. You can get whiplash trying to see what just passed.

So, you get more determined and focused.

"Here they come!"

"Whoosh!" At least, this time you can sorta make out the colors of what just shot past.

It gets even trickier with a capacity crowd. Grandstand seats got to a select few at premium prices. Spots fill up quickly at the rail.

So, some folks are relegated to stooping and constantly staring at a patch of ice, often framed by two elbows, partially obscured by a glove sticking out of a pocket.

It's a good focusing drill, something they teach in yoga of LaMaze. Just watch the ice. At about minute intervals, something zips past. If you're lucky, you saw Olympic luge.

At least, it gives you a real concept of the speed involved one of the few sports that is measured in thousandths of a second. Just hundredth of a second can drop a competitor 10 spots.

There were 17 teams in the finals of doubles luge. Each made two runs. And the average spectator, who spent so much time to get to his prime location, saw maybe 15 seconds of real action -- if he was lucky.

You don't get much slide for you buck here.

On the way back on the shuttle, on a nearby hillside, spectators were treated to a a family of moose, quietly gazing at what was trekking past.

What's irritating is the moose had the best view.

(David McCollum, sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., is part of the Morris News Service team covering the 2002 Winter Olympics).

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