How Exactly Do Olympic Athletes Steer a Luge? Very Carefully

All eyes are on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where the world's top athletes are once again competing in a wide variety of exhilarating — and, at times, dangerous — winter sports. One of the most popular events is luge, in which athletes race down a sloped ice track on their backs, feet first. Given their speed and position on the sled, you might wonder how exactly lugers manage to steer. Like so many other aspects of Olympic sports, steering a luge requires tremendous skill.

Luge is both the name of the event and the name of the one- or two-person sled the athletes compete on. The sled runs on two blades, or runners, that make contact with the ice. Luge athletes must have very strong leg muscles, because according to "USA Today," they use their calves to put pressure on one of the runners and steer the sled. A luger can also opt to shift their weight using their shoulders — but ideally, athletes want to steer as little as possible, as steering can create friction between the sled and the ice and slow them down.

When there are two people riding the luge, the top slider makes the calls about when and how to steer, because they have a better view of the track. They then use their head to signal turns to their partner, who has more contact with the sled. At the velocity these sleds travel, it can seem like the athletes are barely moving — but if you look closely enough, you can see how expertly trained they are. And, if you're curious to see the track from the athletes' perspective, you'll want to check out this behind-the-scenes clip from the Beijing Games. (Just be warned: luge is not for the faint of heart.)