Mountain Sports

A Guide to Skeleton: A Winter Sport

British skeleton athlete Lizzy Yarnold slides into the finish area after her second run BMW IBSF World Cup race in Lake Placid

Skeleton probably tops the list of all intense and thrilling games at the Winter Olympics. Though the list includes some other fast and dangerous games, such as snowboarding and cross-country skiing, the skeleton has the player inches away from the hard rigid ice. Accidents happen in the skeleton, and the players hitting or crashing their heads on the hard icy course sometimes result in serious concussions and internal injuries.

How Does This Game Work?

The players in this game are known as sliders who hurl themselves headfirst down the ice course on a sled. This sled is no bigger than a normal tea tray. The sled used in the skeleton is called a skeleton bobsled. Skeleton might be confused with two other Winter Olympic Games called bobsleigh and luge.

Unlike the two other winter sports, the skeleton is a one-player game. However, similar to bobsleigh, the skeleton race has a running start as soon as the gates of the course are opened. The sliders typically lie face down on their skeleton sleighs and slide down the ice course – hitting 90 miles per hour approximately. This is a competition of speed and the high ability of maneuvering.

The race begins with the players in a crouching position, ready to dash out with their sleds along the ice course. For the initial 50 meters or so, they push their sleds with one hand down the icy course – after which they have to hop on to the sled while it speeds down the course. The moment when they jump on their sleds is the only time in the whole race when the athletes can work on their speed or velocity. After that, it is only the gravity that controls their speed.

Nevertheless, the aerodynamics of the skeleton make it less dangerous and life-threatening than the luge as having your body flat on the sled picks up less speed than standing up on the sled and using your knees to push through (luge). Each slider is required to run the course four times, and the fastest total running time decides the winner.

About the Skeleton Sleigh

The skeleton sleigh or sled is made of steel runners attached and fastened to a flat metal platform. The skeleton sled is heavier than the one used in luge, and the sliders have to move only their upper bodies without lifting them off the sled to steer themselves.

Two steel runners are also attached to the flat riding board of the skeleton sleigh. There are two handles on each of the runners that help the sliders in pushing themselves forward at the beginning of the race to gain momentum. The sleigh also has bumpers attached to the sides that provide the sliders with a cushion in case of a bump or jolt.

FIBT’s Specifications about the Sled Dimensions

The Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) passed a ruling about the standard dimensions of the skeleton sleigh. The ruling holds that the skeleton sleigh can only be made of steel, and no other materials should be used. These sleighs are not allowed to have any braking or steering mechanism as the sliders have to do this on their own, shifting their bodyweights accordingly.

Also, for the skeleton competition, the combined weight of the player and the skeleton sleigh should be about 115 kg for men and 92 kg for women. Furthermore, the federation also signified the difference between men’s and women’s skeleton sleigh, which should be 43 kg and 35 kg, respectively.

History of the Skeleton Sport

The historical footprints of this winter sport date back to the 1880s. The famous Cresta Run at the St. Moritz, Switzerland, is claimed to be the first ice course used for the skeleton. It has a course running from St. Moritz to the town of Celerina, spanning over 1,213 meters or 1,327 yards. Cresta Run has had the honor of hosting Grand National – the championship wherein the first skeleton sport was introduced in 1887.

If you are wondering how this sport got its unique name, then it was in the year 1892 when an English tobogganer introduced a new and updated sled made of steel. It was very thin and smaller than the previous ones – almost similar to a skeleton. Hence, some historians are of the view that this is why this sport got its name. According to another account, the Norwegian word kjelke is the inspiration behind naming this sport.

Skeleton remained confined to Switzerland only till the year 1905, after which Styria had the first-ever international skeleton competition the same year in Mürzzuschlag, Austria. Skeleton gained a lot of popularity among the people. With the adrenaline rush and high levels of danger, people appreciated this sport.

Following the first championship in Austria, this sport quickly spread in numerous countries. A Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was also founded in 1923 to overlook the matters related to the skeleton. The year 1928 and 1948 witnessed the recognition of skeleton as a Winter Olympics’ Game.

However, the skeleton was then dropped off from the Winter Olympics,bobsleigh and luge took over as the popular winter sports at the Olympics. The sleighs were renovated, and adjustments were made to the game that included the making of skeleton sled and artificial bob. These steps proved helpful in bringing the skeleton to the Winter Olympics back again. Initially, this game was considered quite a dangerous one.

However, since its re-entry in the Winter Olympics in 2002, skeleton sledding has been a regular part of these games.

Equipment Used in the Skeleton

  • A racing helmet specially designed for alpine sports.
  • A chin guard or a helmet that provides full-face coverage.
  • A speed suit that is skin-tight and made of uncoated textile.
  • Track spikes shoes.
  • Elbow and shoulder pads underneath the speed suit (optional)
  • A standard FIBT-approved skeleton sleigh

Final Words

Skeleton is a sport that is not for the weak. It is rigorous and strenuous – not only physically but also mentally. The split-second decisions of turning and making shifts in the body to adjust speed are enough to challenge every little nerve cell in your brain. Despite being rough and – as one might assume – suitable for people who have been around icy cold temperatures, this sport has participants from various cold regions of the world.

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