German luger Felix Loch was a medal favourite going into the Pyeongchang Olympics.
But one wrong turn may have cost him the gold – he skidded up against the wall in Curve 9 on the Olympic sliding track and finished in fifth place, giving the race to an Austrian.
He’s not the only one. Olympic sliders have been talking about the infamous Curve 9 since the track first opened in Pyeongchang in 2016 and it’s put a damper on several medal hopefuls’ plans so far.
Here’s what makes it so tough.
It might not look like much compared to the hairpin turns elsewhere on the course. But it’s tricky, not because it’s a subtle curve, but because of its length: it’s tough to hold the correct angle for the entire turn, lugers say.
“To put it in the simplest terms, the curve’s just too long for how much pressure we have in there,” said American luger Tucker West.
“We lose pressure quickly, and that causes us to go sideways.”
The curve might also have cost him a shot at an Olympic medal after he wasn’t able to take it in his first run.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge coming in,” West said Saturday night, not long after the run that he’ll be replaying in his mind for at least the foreseeable future. “I was getting confident with it throughout the week. I nailed it six runs in a row. Just made an unfortunate mistake … and I paid for it.”
American luger Emily Sweeney said it’s like driving on a slanted road, but having your car getting pulled in a direction away from the way you’re steering.
Sweeney was another victim of Curve 9. In her last run on Tuesday, she lost control around the curve and began careening all over the track. She then slid feet-first up a turn toward the track roof before getting thrown from her sled and eventually tumbling to a stop.
Many in the crowd looked at the monitors, horrified. The stands were filled with fans cheering raucously, and they immediately went silent waiting for some sort of sign that Sweeney would be all right.
It took several minutes for the luger to get to her feet, then several more before she could finally start a slow walk to the finish area — surrounded by team and on-site medical personnel.
“I’ve never been so relieved than when I saw her getting up and walking,” said American teammate Summer Britcher, choking back tears.
Curve 9 has been a problem for sliders throughout the early portion of the Olympics, causing many to skid, lose control and lose some time. Crashes, however, have not come as often as they did in the 2006 and 2010 Games, both of which left athletes openly complaining about track safety. Bobsledders, lugers and skeleton athletes all use the same track, though they start from different points along it.
–With files from the Associated Press