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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 08:50 GMT
Digital gear gives luge the edge
Luge one of the most dangerous Olympic winter sports
Luge: Travelling at 145kph, (90mph)
Digital technology could hold the key to Olympic gold for the US luge team.

They have been using digital cameras and advanced computer software to try to gain an edge in a sport where the difference between winning and losing is measured in thousandths of a second.

Luge is considered one of the most dangerous of the Olympic disciplines, with competitors sliding down a track horizontally at 145 kilometres per hour, (90 miles per hour), just centimetres above the ice.

"The problem they have is that the coach cannot evaluate and analyse an athlete with the naked eye," explained Panasonic's Jeff Samuels.

Jeff Samuels of Panasonic
Samuels: Helped supply the gear
So the electronics company gave the luge team digital camcorders, DVD and video players, big-screen televisions and special shock-resistant laptop computers.

Using the products supplied by Panasonic, together with an athletic analytical programme called Dartfish, the team's coaches have been able to get a better picture of the athletes' performance.

Runs analysed

The first step in improving the team's performance was placing the six digital cameras at key locations along the luge training facility at Lake Placid in New York.

In the past, the team had to rely on just one camera.

The US team in training
Getting a fast start is key
The runs were recorded and transferred to the laptops, where special software was used to analyse runs in detail.

"So if athlete A and athlete B are coming down a hill, they can literally lay one on top of the other and see whose head is raised, whose toe might be pointing out," Mr Samuels told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"Luge is timed to the thousandth of a second, so any little movement of the head or toe can throw you off."

Team hopeful

Preparations for the luge competition
US hoping for gold at the Salt Lake city track
The 10-member US luge squad are confident ahead of the Winter Games.

They recently won a combined five medals and an overall title at the Challenge Cup and World Cup Finals held in Winterberg in Germany.

Luge was belatedly added to the Olympic programme only in 1964 because it was originally considered too dangerous.

The Olympic luge competition takes place on 10 and 11 February.

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Luge and Skeleton
The wrong side of the tracks
16 Jan 02 | Luge and Skeleton
Salt Lake's slide rulers
11 Jan 02 | Luge and Skeleton
Legend of the luge
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