The sport of skeleton is a winter sport unfamiliar with many people, but has been quickly gathering popularity among spectators and athletes. Participants, or Sliders, sprint roughly 30m on an ice track while pushing a sled, the sliders then jump onto the sled, as smoothly as possible, to race down a mile long ice track face first on their stomachs. They are the same tracks used for bobsleigh and luge which include large banked curves, and straight-aways. While the sliders race along on the track they experience up to 5 G-forces for periods of time. The sled itself has no brakes and all the steering is done by slight movements by the slider.
This sport of skeleton first originated in the Swiss Alps in the city of St. Moritz in 1884 and was first performed on the Cresta Run, a natural ice track. It was first called toboggan racing, and then in 1892 the name changed to skeleton because the metal sled resembled a human skeleton. Curves were later added to the track to make it more difficult and challenging to the sliders. The first actual skeleton race event was in 1887. As unfamiliar as this sport is today, it was actually the first competitive sliding event, and laid down the groundwork for the sport of bobsleigh, a much more popular sport. In 1923 the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing or (FIBT) was created and brought together the sports of bobsleigh and skeleton underneath one organization. The FIBT is the body governing these two sports; inspecting and regulating the sleds, runners, and equipment of each sport.
The first Olympic debut for skeleton was in 1928 in St. Moritz as it was the only track for the sport. In 1968 the first refrigerated track was developed in Germany and sliders could plan practices and competitions with less concern of the weather. After the 1948 Olympics, skeleton disappeared from the Olympic scene, but still competed in world championships and other competitions. It wasn’t until 1999 that the FIBT got the sport back on the Olympic program, and during the 2002 Olympics in Park City, Utah that the sport of skeleton reappeared. Since then the sport has increased in popularity with more fans and athletes creating greater competition.
The sport of Skeleton consists of a few aspects; the athlete, the equipment, and the tracks. I will describe the components briefly to provide an idea of each. The athletes must be powerful and fast, and be able to sprint leaning over to push the sled. This push start must be fast as it forms the groundwork for the sliders run down the track. The sliders must be able to steer the technical tracks at speeds ranging from 65-85+mph, as G-forces are pressing down on the slider. Skeleton is a physically demanding sport, but is extremely mental as the brain must process information at very high speeds and pressures. The equipment involved includes a specialized pair of shoes with hundreds of small spikes to grip the ice, an aerodynamic speed suit and helmet, and the most important piece of equipment is the sled, which allows us to slide down the tracks with speed and as safely as possible for the sport. The sled is roughly 4 feet long, two feet wide, and the highest part of the sled is about a foot above the ice. The sleds are customized to fit the slider although there are certain restrictions how the sleds can be built. It is quite similar to Nascar in the fact that there are blueprints to building each the sled and the car, but must follow and stay within the guidelines. The tracks in which skeleton, luge, and bobsleigh athletes slide on are very intricately designed for these three sports. There are 16 artificially made ice tracks around the world designed for these three sports. Two of these tracks are in the United States, one in Park City, Utah, and the other in Lake Placid, New York. The tracks are built with refrigerated ice surfaces down a mountain. The tracks are all roughly around fifteen hundred meters long consisting of curves, and straights. Curves are built at different banked angles which can cause the G-forces and quickly accelerate the slider out of the curve. In the straights the slider wants to stay in a straight path so they don’t get bounced between the two walls, which could dramatically slow down their time. The bottom sections of the tracks are inclined up the mountain to slow the slider down as they pass the finish line for a safer stop. Since skeleton sliders have no brakes, it’s crucial that the tracks have an incline to slow them down.
At first glance the skeleton may seem simple, but there are many factors that come with the sport. I hope this information provides a good insight to Skeleton, as to its history and the aspects involved with this crazy sport.