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The Independent Online

ANDY OLDFIELD

ANDY OLDFIELD

ALTHOUGH INTEREST in winter sports is growing in the UK, Britain lags behind its European counterparts when it comes to medals. For instance, the luge World Cup series starts on Saturday in Norway at Lillehammer after training runs earlier in the week, but a perusal on the Web of past British achievements is not likely to send Internet users scuttling off to a virtual bookies with dreams of getting rich by backing Britain.

"Room for improvement" is the optimistic take - last season Britain finished 15th out of 15 in the world standings. But, putting cynicism aside and looking at the pages of The Great Britain Luge Association, there is no reason why improvement should not come.

Several of the athletes have only one or two seasons of racing experience behind them. With luck, and with more athletes taking up the sport as it gets a wider airing on TV (Eurosport will be covering it on its television channels and probably on its Web channel, although as yet the sport is not listed in the winter sport section) advances ought to come.

To follow the sport, Luge.com and the International Federation have the main sites. In the run-up to the new season, the federation site was more up to date with the 1999-2000 calendar in place and some recent reports about organisational matters and preparations for ensuring that the next millennium gets underway in style for luge enthusiasts. Previous records are archived and as the season gets underway there are links to the home sites of those tracks that have an online presence - the World Cup event in May next year at Königsee, with its live picture link, looks promising.

Luge.com has not been updated as recently, but is still a useful resource for information about the tracks and previous seasons. It has some RealAudio sound files to evoke the real thing for those desperate for a fix. A useful feature, or at least a potentially useful one when the season is in full swing, is the page that has links to news wires.

Considering the sport is essentially a souped-up version of tobogganing, there is a lot of mystique attached to it - something the Web sites are good at clarifying. The GB Association site has a potted history, explaining how the Naturbahn discipline, using "natural" luge tracks down mountain sides with unbanked curves, differs from the Olympic variant, Kuntsbahn, which takes place in the artificially frozen tracks also used for bobsleigh. The other two sites have similar pages.

The luge itself is not much in evidence when watching the sport. This is unsurprising, seeing as it is obscured by a helmeted figure wearing a speed suit, lying on his back and travelling at great rapidity very close to the ice, but it is something of a technical marvel none the less - competition sleds cost a minimum of £1,200 each.

Luge.com helps you get to grips with the fundamental mechanics in its page with a sled diagram. Click on the parts and you get an interactive naming of parts, complete with descriptions of what they do.

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