Here's How You Can Tell the Difference Between Luge, Skeleton, and Bobsled

All three sports have striking similarities, but there are each distinct events.

difference between luge skeleton bobsled
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Even if you're into sports that aren't exactly one of the biggest sports in the US, you're probably still trying to connect the dots on lots of Olympic sports. It's fine. You can enjoy curling, but only really love it for a couple of weeks once every four years. If that's the case for you with luge, skeleton, and bobsleigh, we can help you tell the difference between them.

All three sports involve taking a sled down a steep, icy tube at terrifying speeds. All three require an almost impossible amount of courage. Though you've probably guessed since there are three names at play here, there are differences between them. Here are the key differences between luge, skeleton, and bobsleigh (or bobsled) so that you are prepared to be the sports' biggest fan over the next few weeks of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

What Is Luge?

Luge takes place in singles and doubles, with athletes lying on their back aboard a flat, brakeless sled. Riders can grab the handles on the side, which seems like a poor replacement for brakes to me. Those handles aren't for steering either. Racers angle their bodies to control the sled. 

Another key difference is that athletes start on the sled at the beginning of the run. (Instead of hopping aboard for the start of the race in bobsled, like you remember from Cool Runnings.) To start the race, the rider rocks back and forth to launch themselves down the track. They use their hands to push along the ground to get the sled going at the start of their run. Once they're going, the sled hits impressive speeds. They can reach speeds in the upper 80s. Austrian racer Manuel Pfister set a record before the 2010 Olympics when he hit 96 miles per hour. 

Luge was the last of these three to get added to the Winter Olympics. It entered in 1964, 38 years after skeleton and 40 years after bobsleigh. 

What Is Skeleton?

Skeleton is a lot like luge, except, from an outside perspective, it is somehow even more terrifying. Athletes lay on a flat sled over steel runners, which are sharper than on a luge sled. The sled, like in luge, has no brakes and is steered by angling the body. The most noticeable difference is that instead of lying on their back, athletes lie on their stomachs, going down the hill face first.

The race begins with the racer running and diving headfirst onto their sled like you used to do with that saucer at the big hill down the street. They'll get up to around 80 miles per hour. It's the slowest of the three sports here. Though, that's relative. They're still moving impressively fast.

What Is Bobsled?

In this sport, which may be the most recognizable of the three, athletes are sitting in a sled that is kind of shaped like a pill. At the Olympics, the sport takes place in pairs or a group of four. The positioning inside the sled matters because there are different jobs in there. The athlete at the front of the sled is steering with ropes, and the person in the back is in charge of the brakes.

To start the race, the two or four people on the team run alongside the sled and push it before jumping in. The average speed here is higher than the other two sports, sitting in the low 90s. Though, the fastest speed recorded was about 125 miles per hour.

That is what casual viewers are familiar with, but there is a new wrinkle in 2022. Monobob has been added to the Games for women's competition. It's a one-person bobsled run. The most interesting part of this version is that the athletes use the same sled. So, there's no advantage to well-funded teams that can get the top-of-the-line sled. Everyone has the same aerodynamics. All that changes is the woman inside the sled.

Now you're fully prepared to act like you know everything about these sports while watching the Games.

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.