Unsafe at Any Speed

They raised the walls and smoothed out the bumps, but the Lake Placid bobsled and luge track is still one very wild ride

Outside

Outside    

IN MID-FEBRUARY, all eyes in the international luge and bobsled community will focus on the Luge World Cup finals in Lake Placid, New York. More to the point, they'll zero in on the track. A year ago, when racers blasted down the new $24 million Mount Hoevenberg course for the first time at the Goodwill Games, spectators could have been excused for thinking they were watching NASCAR on ice. U.S. luge veteran Tony Benshoof entered a corner too low, hung one runner over the lip, and nearly launched into the bordering pine trees. Eight of 30 men crashed—though none was hospitalized—and five top lugers refused to race at all, fearing they'd flip at 80 mph and, sliding out of control, burn through their Lycra suits. (Olympic champion George Hackl of Germany went so far as to tell the Salt Lake Tribune that the best thing to do with the track was tear it down.) "Some of the tracks, you gotta make something out of nothing for commentary," says John Morgan, a former bobsled brakeman and the color commentator for the last five winter Olympics. "But not this track. It's a man-versus-mountain kind of track." This year, after a few upgrades, the ice will be smoother, the walls will be a foot higher, and the racers will be better prepared. But the track will be what it was: one of the hardest courses on the 13-stop World Cup tour. Above, a taste of what lugers will face when they fling themselves off the start handles.

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