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Timeline of Development of the Sport
 
+  800 AD  Earliest evidence of sled use by the Vikings
 1883  First International Luge Race
 1954  Luge Selected as an International Sport
 1957  International Luge Federation is Founded
 1964  First Olympic Luge Competition
(info from http://www.luge.com/history/history.htm)

 
Olympic Results:

2002: Salt Lake City, United States
Men's Singles
Medal
Country
Time
Gold
Italy (Italy)
2:57.941
Silver
Germany (Germany)
2:58.270
Bronze
Austria (Austria)
2:58.283


Men's Doubles
Medal
Country
Time
Gold
Germany (Germany)
1:26.082
Silver
United States (United States)
1:26.216
Bronze
United States (United States) 1:26.220


Women's Singles
Medal
Country
Time
Gold
Germany (Germany)
2:52.464
Silver
Germany (Germany)
2:52.785
Bronze
Germany (Germany)
2:52.865

(info from http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/winter02/medaltracker/byEvent?sportId=l )
1998: Nagano, Japan
Men's Singles
Medal
Country
Time
Gold
Germany (Germany)
3:18.436
Silver
Italy (Italy)
3:18.939
Bronze
Germany (Germany)
3:19.093


Men's Doubles
Medal
Country
Time
Gold
Germany (Germany)
1:41.105
Silver
United States (United States)
1:41.127
Bronze
United States (United States)
1:41.217


Women's Singles
Medal
Country
Time
Gold
Germany (Germany)
3:23.779
Silver
Germany (Germany)
3:23.781
Bronze
Austria (Austria)
2:58.283

(info from http://www.luge.com/results/kb_97-98/ol98.htm )


Luge Score Graph, comparing 1998 top scores to 2002 top scores

    As demonstrated in this graph, the times for the Nagano course appears to be slower in general than those for the Salt Lake City course.  This could be for one of several reasons.  Firstly, the course may have been designed so that shorter runs could be possible (by, for example, having a very steep run at the start of the course so that lugers get to a higher speed faster).  Secondly, the climate conditions in Salt Lake City were better than those in Nagano for luging; too high a temperature creates slush on the track, which greatly reduces the speed, while too low a temperature means that the ice is harder, and that it is therefore harder to dig into it and get traction to avoid the walls.  With ice at just the right temperature, a very thin layer of water forms under the luge's runners (which are heated by the friction of running over ice at high speeds); this layer acts as a lubricant, but it is thin enough that the runners can still dig into the ice for traction on sharp turns.  A third possibility is that the equipment was better; maybe one of the new materials developed between these games, for example, was able to reduce the friction between the runners and the ice.  And finally, of course, it is always possible that the lugers in Salt Lake were just plain better than those in Nagano.  I would predict that a combination of the above factors, not any single one, is the cause of this difference.