If your experience of watching these sports is limited to a couple hours once every four years, luge, skeleton, and bobsleigh look pretty similar. That's especially true if you're watching doubles luge and bobsleigh.
Despite all three sports taking place on a sled in an ice tube at high speeds around blistering curves, there are key differences between the games. (Even ones that have nothing to do with Cool Runnings!) Here's the difference between luge, skeleton, and bobsleigh (or bobsled).
In the Olympics, you'll see singles and doubles luge. It takes place on a flat brakeless sled with the athlete lying on their back. The sled has handles on the side for the slider to brace themselves. Those handles do nothing to help steer. Racers steer by angling their bodies.
This is the only one of these the sports where the racer starts on the sled. The athlete is seated with their hands on two metal bars at the starting line. They rock back and forth to launch themselves into the track. Before lying down, they push along the ground with both hands to propel the sled.
Lugers hit around 87 miles per hour. Austrian Manuel Pfister set a record while going 97 miles per hour just before the 2010 Winter Olympics. The sport was added to the Winter Olympics in 1964, 38 years after skeleton and 40 years after bobsleigh.
What Is Skeleton?
Similar to luge, skeleton takes place on a flat sled set atop steel runners. Also, like luge, the sled has no brakes and can only be steered by angling the body. The big difference here is skeleton riders compete while lying on their stomach, headfirst.
The athlete starts the race by running and diving headfirst onto the sled. Then they're flying along at 80 miles per hour with their head one inch off the ice. It's the slowest of these three sports. Part of the difference in speeds between luge and skeleton is the luge sled's sharper runners. Additionally, lugers are more aerodynamic because having a helmet lead the sled is a larger surface area than if you, like a luger, lead with your feet.
The sled here looks a little like half a pill instead of a flat sled. In the Olympics, you'll find the game played in two-person and four-person teams where the person in front is steering with ropes inside the sleigh, and the person in the back is in charge of the seldom-used brakes. When the pilot steers the sleigh, the front section of the sled is what changes to allow for steering.
Racers run alongside the sled pushing handles to start the race. Eventually, they jump into the sled. The average speed is somewhere around 93 miles per hour. It's the fastest of the three sledding sports with the fastest recorded speed at about 125 miles per hour.
The race can get intense. Just take a look at what the pilot saw as the German bobsled team crashed its way over the finish line on its second run in PyeongChang.
Now go forth and pretend like you watch these games more than once every four years.