There are 16 turns on the track at the Alpensia Sliding Center, used for luge, skeleton, and bobsled at the 2018 Olympics. And for a full year now, since the track was first used for World Cup events, riders have been warning that medal chances (and bodies) would be made or broken in Curve 9. It has not disappointed.
Today, American Emily Sweeney lost control in Curve 9, fishtailing back and forth across the track and sliding up, nearly onto its roof, before coming down and slamming hard into the wall. Start watching at around 20 seconds:
Medics rushed to the scene, but after staying down for minutes, Sweeney was able to eventually walk off under her own power. She was taken to the hospital, where X-rays revealed no broken bones.
The previous day, Austria’s Birgit Platzer lost control in the exact same spot—Curve 9—and slammed into the wall before going airborne.
Platzer, too, was not seriously injured.
The difficulty is not Curve 9 itself, but in how riders emerge from it. The turn spits out riders to the right, but the track itself is a 45-degree straightaway to the left. “The walls will kind of jump out and bite you,” said U.S. luger Tucker West, “instead of you jumping out to bite them.”
Sweeney, before her competition, described it to an Associated Press reporter as (in his words) “like driving on a slanted road, but having your car getting pulled in a direction away from the way you’re steering.”
Making contact with the wall is enough to shave valuable fractions of seconds off a rider’s time, meaning that whoever medals will likely have avoided trouble in Curve 9. But making hard contact with the wall can be enough to throw a rider off their line, and the way the track is laid out next, things can get even worse from there.
In a USA Today video released before the competition, riders explained just why Curve 9 is so difficult.
In the video, West says,
“If you were to drive it like a normal curve, it spits you straight into a wall. And then on top of that, the straightaway itself is kinked, they have two curves hidden within it.”
That leads to riders trying to overcompensate, and that’s how you get a sled veering back and forth like Sweeney’s in her crash today.
And even though the singles luge events are over, there are plenty more riders coming down Curve 9. Doubles luge begins Wednesday, the skeleton events on Thursday, and the bobsled on Sunday. If the riders haven’t mastered Curve 9 since seeing it a year ago, they’re not gonna beat it in the next week.