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Factbox - Luge at the Sochi Winter Games

(Reuters) - Here are the main facts about luge at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The competition:

Four gold medals are up for grabs. Individual competitions for men and women in the singles are held over two days with two runs per day. The four times are added together, and the fastest total time determines the winner.

The doubles is a one-day competition, in which the fastest total time of two runs determines the winner. There is no written rule that says a team must comprise members of the same sex, but men traditionally ride together.

The team relay will be introduced at the Sochi Games for the first time and will feature one woman, one man and one doubles team from each nation sliding back-to-back-to-back runs. At the finish each athlete must touch the special touch pad, which automatically opens the in-run gate for the next team member.

History:

Germany have been the dominant sliders in the sport since luge was introduced at the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympics.

German great Georg Hackl won three golds and two silvers between 1988 and 2006. Italian Armin Zoeggeler, 40, also has five medals, including two golds, and if he makes the podium in Sochi he will become the first Winter Olympian to win six medals in a single event.

Considered to be one of the most dangerous Olympic winter sports, the 2010 Games were overshadowed by the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on a training run on the day of the opening ceremony.

The venue:

The Olympic track at the Sanki Sliding Centre winds its way across the northern slope of the Aibga Ridge with a finishing area located in Rzhanaya Polyana.

The overall length of the track is 1.814 metres, 314 of which are taken up by the braking area.

There are 17 curves with a vertical drop of some 132m from top to bottom, with its highest point being located at 836m above sea level and its lowest point at 704m.

There are three negative slopes to slow competitors down - with safety as the primary concern following the death of Kumaritashvili.

THE CONTENDERS

Germany finished 1-2 in the men's singles through Felix Loch and David Moeller four years ago and Loch is hot favourite to take gold again having claimed this season's World Cup title.

Natalie Geisenberger has also clinched the season-long crown and if she can replicate that form will be hard to beat. Geisenberger took bronze in 2010 with team mate Tatjana Hufner winning gold.

Hufner is again a threat having overcome injury problems earlier in the season.

Russia's biggest medal hopes lie with Tatiana Ivanova and Albert Demchenko.

In the doubles, double Olympic champions Andreas and Wolfgang Linger of Austria seek a hat-trick with Germany's Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, and Latvia's Olympic silver medallists Andris Sics-Juris Sics also leading contenders.

(Compiled by Justin Palmer; Editing by Julien Pretot)