'Formula One on ice': luge brings hair-raising speeds to the Olympics
The hair-raising sport of luge kicks off the sliding events at the Beijing Olympics with speeds of more than 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour Friday making it feel "like Formula One on ice".
In the final training run ahead of the men's heats on Saturday, Germany's Johannes Ludwig clocked 131.5km/h thundering down the 1.5 km-long track in the fastest time of 57.814 seconds at Yanqing National Sliding Centre.
Ludwig, the overall World Cup winner this season, starts as favourite over the four heats -- two on Saturday and two on Sunday -- to decide the medals.
Having had to settle for bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, Ludwig is feeling a mixture of "tension and excitement, but that's good to sharpen my focus".
He faces stiff competition from German team-mate Felix Loch, who is bidding for a third Olympic gold in the men's singles and was just 0.015sec slower in Friday's final training run.
Austria's reigning Olympic champion David Gleirscher and team-mate Wolfgang Kindl are both medal contenders despite errors costing them valuable split seconds Friday.
Travelling at such high speeds leaves little room for error, but Ludwig says fear sharpens the senses.
"Scared is the wrong word, it's good to be a little nervous so that you have your focus on the track because a mistake can happen at any time," he said.
"You always have to focus, but not be scared."
Racers on the Olympic track are subjected to G forces of up to 4.5 -- meaning pressure of four and a half times their bodyweight -- down the course's 16 bends.
British racer Rupert Staudinger, who was 21st of the 35 racers, dubbed luge "like Formula One on ice".
"Formula One has more the horizontal G forces working on you, but luge is more vertical pressure, it's quite a strain for the neck," he said.
The high speeds of the luge events can exact the highest price.
Tragedy struck the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia died after losing control during a practice run.