Olympic Sliding Tracks

Unfortunately, all Olympic fans sadly remember the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, on the morning of the 2010 Vancouver opening ceremony. There were concerns about the track in Vancouver and its speed and difficulty. What is the sliding track like in Sochi, at the Sanki Sliding Centre? And how does it compare to Vancouver and other Olympics sliding tracks?

Below are the specifications for the Olympic sliding tracks at all the Olympics, although in some of the early years, some data is lacking. The three key factors are the length of the track, the gradient, or steepness of the hill, and especially the vertical drop.

Olympic Bobsledding Track Specifications

Two-Man

Year    Curves   Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

1932           26   2,366 m              850 m               228 m          9.6%

1936           17   1,525 m               919 m               129 m          8.5%

1948           17   1,722 m                       —               130 m          7.5%

1952           13   1,508 m               429 m               124 m          8.2%

1956           16   1,700 m                       —               153 m          9.0%

1964           13   1,506 m           1,133 m               138 m          9.2%

1968           13   1,500 m           2,030 m               140 m          9.3%

1972           14   1,563 m               495 m                 70 m          4.5%

1976           14   1,220 m            1,133 m                 97 m          8.0%

1980           16   1,557 m               771 m               148 m          9.5%

1984           13   1,300 m           1,109 m               126 m          9.7%

1988           14   1,475 m           1,250 m               120 m          8.1%

1992           19   1,508 m           1,685 m               125 m          8.3%

1994           16   1,365 m               347 m               107 m          7.8%

1998           15   1,360 m           1,028 m               113 m          8.3%

2002           15   1,340 m           2,233 m               104 m          7.8%

2006           19   1,435 m           1,683 m               114 m          7.9%

2010           16   1,450 m              928 m               148 m        10.2%

2014           18   1,475 m               844 m               132 m          9.3%

Four-Man

Year    Curves   Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

1924           19   1,370 m                        —               156 m        11.4%

1928           17   1,722 m                        —               130 m          7.5%

1932           26   2,366 m              850 m               228 m          9.6%

1936           17   1,525 m               919 m               129 m          8.5%

1948           17   1,722 m                        —               130 m          7.5%

1952           13   1,508 m                429 m               124 m          8.2%

1956           16   1,700 m                        —               153 m          9.0%

1964           13   1,506 m           1,133 m               138 m          9.2%

1968           13   1,500 m           2,030 m               140 m          9.3%

1972           14   1,563 m                495 m                 70 m          4.5%

1976           14   1,220 m            1,133 m                 97 m          8.0%

1980           16   1,557 m               771 m               148 m          9.5%

1984           13   1,300 m           1,109 m               126 m          9.7%

1988           14   1,475 m           1,250 m               120 m          8.1%

1992           19   1,508 m           1,685 m               125 m          8.3%

1994           16   1,365 m               347 m               107 m          7.8%

1998           15   1,360 m           1,028 m               113 m          8.3%

2002           15   1,340 m           2,233 m               104 m          7.8%

2006           19   1,435 m           1,683 m               114 m          7.9%

2010           16   1,450 m              928 m               148 m        10.2%

2014           18   1,475 m               844 m               132 m          9.3%

Two-Women

Year    Curves    Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

2002           15   1,340 m           2,233 m               104 m          7.8%

2006           19   1,435 m           1,683 m               114 m          7.9%

2010           16   1,450 m               928 m               148 m        10.2%

2014           18   1,475 m               844 m               132 m          9.3%

 

Olympic Luge Track Specifications

Men’s Singles

Year    Curves   Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

1964           18   1,058 m           1,133 m               113 m        10.7%

1968           14   1,000 m           1,110 m               110 m        11.0%

1972           14   1,023 m                443 m               101 m          9.9%

1976           14   1,220 m                        —               103 m          8.4%

1980           14   1,014 m                731 m                 96 m          9.5%

1984           13   1,210 m           1,112 m               129 m        10.7%

1988           13   1,251 m           1,309 m               109 m          8.7%

1992           15   1,250 m           1,671 m               111 m          8.9%

1994           16   1,365 m                350 m               110 m          8.1%

1998           14   1,326 m           1,029 m               114 m          8.6%

2002           17   1,317 m                    —               106 m              8.0%

2006           19   1,435 m                    —               114 m              7.9%

2010           15   1,198 m              909 m               132 m        11.0%

2014           17   1,475 m              844 m               132 m           9.3%

Doubles

Year    Curves   Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

1964           18      910 m           1,110 m                 89 m           9.8%

1968           —               —                        —                       —                —

1972           11      763 m               420 m                 78 m        10.2%

1976           10      870 m                        —                 72 m           8.3%

1980           11      749 m              695 m                 59 m          7.9%

1984           11      993 m           1,082 m               100 m        10.1%

1988           10   1,080 m           1,281 m                 81 m          7.5%

1992           14   1,143 m           1,652 m                 92 m          8.0%

1994           13   1,185 m                325 m                 85 m          7.2%

1998           13   1,194 m           1,011 m                  96 m          8.0%

2002           12   1,140 m                        —                  77 m          6.8%

2006           17   1,233 m                        —                  98 m          7.9%

2010           14      953 m                883 m                 96 m        10.1%

2014           16   1,384 m                836 m               125 m          9.3%

Women’s Singles

Year    Curves     Length    Start Altitude    Vertical Drop     Gradient

1964           18      910 m           1,110 m                 89 m          9.8%

1968           —               —                        —                        —              —

1972           11      763 m                420 m                 78 m        10.2%

1976           10      870 m                        —                  72 m          8.3%

1980           11      749 m                695 m                 59 m          7.9%

1984           11      993 m            1,082 m               100 m        10.1%

1988           10   1,080 m            1,281 m                 81 m          7.5%

1992           14   1,143 m            1,652 m                 92 m          8.0%

1994           13   1,185 m                325 m                 85 m          7.2%

1998           13   1,194 m            1,011 m                 96 m          8.0%

2002           12   1,140 m                        —                  77 m          6.8%

2006           17   1,233 m                        —                  98 m          7.9%

2010           14        953 m               883 m                 96 m        10.1%

2014           16   1,384 m                836 m               125 m          9.3%

 

Olympic Skeleton Track Specifications

Men

Year    Curves   Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

1928           15   1,231 m                       —               157 m        12.8%

1948           15   1,231 m                       —               157 m        12.8%

2002           15   1,335 m           2,233 m               104 m          7.8%

2006           19   1,435 m           1,683 m               114 m          7.9%

2010           15   1,450 m              928 m               148 m        10.2%

2014           18   1,475 m              844 m               132 m         9.3%

Women

Year    Curves   Length  Start Altitude  Vertical Drop   Gradient

2002           15   1,335 m           2,233 m               104 m          7.8%

2006           19   1,435 m           1,683 m               114 m          7.9%

2010           15   1,450 m              928 m                148 m        10.2%

2014           18   1,475 m              844 m                132 m          9.3%

If everything else is equal, the vertical drop is what determines the speed. On a frictionless track, with no curves, the velocity one obtains would be as follows, if you remember your elementary physics:

V = √2gh

In the above, V = velocity, h = vertical drop (or height), and g = gravitational acceleration (=9.8 m/s). With no other forces, such as friction, the speed at the bottom can be determined by the equation relating potential and kinetic energy:

mgh = ½mV2

Which yields the above formula for the final velocity.

Now obviously there is friction, and there are curves. Modern sliding tracks really began in the 1960s with refrigerated tracks which are basically sheets of ice. Friction is pretty minimal now, but its still there. And some of the curves will slow down the sleds, although the highly banked tracks minimize that.

So looking at the above, we note that the Sanki track is a long one, at a maximum length of 1,475 metres. It is the longest ever luge or skeleton Olympic track, although several bob tracks have been longer.

The Vancouver track had a greater vertical drop and gradient than Sochi, however. In fact Vancouver had the steepest gradient and biggest vertical drop of any of the modern, iced Olympic tracks, although equalled by Lake Placid in 1980, which had the same vertical drop but less of a gradient. For bobsled and skeleton, the track in Vancouver dropped 148 metres at a gradient of about 10.2%, while Sochi drops 132 metres at a gradient of about 9.3%. The luge drop in Vancouver was less, but remember that that track was shortened, and started from lower down, after the fatal accident.

So if you are looking at the differences in the two tracks maximal potential speeds, they are as follows (using bobsled and skeleton drops):

Year           Vertical Drop                         Max Speed

2010          148 m drop        194 km/hr (121 mph)

2014          132 m drop        183 km/hr (114 mph)

Now obviously the sleds never get that fast, as this assumes a frictionless surface and no curves. Maximum speeds hover about 90 mph, or 145 km/hr in skeleton and luge, and can get to 95 mph, or 150 km/hr in bobsled. But what this does show is that the Sanki Sliding Centre track is not as fast as Vancouver’s was, by a factor of about 6% potential maximum speed.

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