Skeleton (sport)

Skeleton (sport)

Skeleton is a winter sport in which competitors aim to drive a one-person sled in a prone, head-first position down an ice track in the fastest time. This differs from luge, where the rider drives the sled from a supine, feet-first orientation. Top speeds attained in skeleton—approximately 130 km/h (80 mph)—are slightly slower than in luge. One of the oldest competitive sledding sports in the world, this Olympic sport is known in some parts of the world as tobogganing. It takes its name from the stripped-down sled, which originally was a bare frame, like a skeleton. There is also a theory about the name that it is a mispronunciation of the Norwegian word "kjelke" ("sled", "luge").

Skeleton originated as a spin-off from the popular British sport of Cresta Sledding in St. Moritz, Switzerland. While Skeleton "sliders" use similar equipment to Cresta "riders", the two sports are different and should not be confused (See below).


The sport of skeleton can be traced back to the British of the late 19th century. English soldiers in Switzerland constructed a toboggan track between the cities of Davos and Klosters in 1882. While toboggan tracks certainly were not uncommon at the time, the added challenge of curves and bends in the Swiss track distinguished it from those of Canada and the United States.cite web |url= |title=Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Toboganning |accessdate=2007-07-18 |format= html ]

Approximately 30 km away in the winter sports town of St. Moritz, British gentlemen had long enjoyed racing one another down the busy, winding streets of the town, causing an uproar among citizens as to the danger posed to pedestrians and visiting tourists. In 1884, Major Bulpetts, with the backing of winter sports pioneer and Kulm hotel owner Caspar Badrutt, constructed Cresta Run, the first sledding track of its kind in St. Moritz.cite web |url= |title=British Bob Skeleton Association |accessdate=2007-07-18 |format=html ] The track ran three-quarters of a mile from St. Moritz to Celerina and contained 10 turns still used today. When the Winter Olympic Games were held at St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948, the Cresta Run was included in the program, marking the only two times skeleton was included as an Olympic event before its permanent addition in 2002 to the Olympic Winter Games.cite web |url= |title=St. Moritz Tobogganing Club |accessdate=2007-07-18 |format=html ]

In the 1887 Grand National competition in St. Moritz, Mr. Cornish introduced the now traditional head-first position, a trend that was in full force by the 1890 Grand National. [<cite encyclopedia |year=2007 |title =skeleton sledding |encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica |publisher=Encyclopaedia Britannica] Until 1905, skeleton was practiced mainly in Switzerland; however, in 1905, Styria held its first skeleton competition in Muerzzuschlag. This opened the door to other national skeleton competitions including the Austrian championship held the following year. In 1908 and 1910, skeleton competitions were held in the Viennese Semmering Mountain.

As the popularity of the sport grew in Europe, skeleton evolved into the sport recognized today. In 1892, the sled was transformed by L.P. Child, an Englishman. The newly designed bare-bones sled resembled a human skeleton, and the sport adopted its modern name of skeleton, though it is still recognized as tobboganing in many countries.

In 1923, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was established as the governing body of the sport. Soon afterward (1926), the International Olympic Committee declared bobsleigh and skeleton as Olympic sports and adopted the rules of the St. Mortiz run as the officially recognized Olympic rules. It was not until 2002, however, that skeleton itself was added permanently to the Olympic program with the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Popularity in the sport has grown since the 2002 Winter Olympics and now includes participation by smaller countries that do not have or cannot have a track because of climate, terrain or monetary limitations. Athletes from such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, South Africa, Argentina, Iraq, Mexico, Brazil and even the Virgin Islands have become involved with the sport in recent years. However, the FIBT narrows the field greatly and only a few dozen countries compete in the Olympic Games.

For a summary of these and other important dates in the history of skeleton, see the timeline below.

The Sport

The accessibility of skeleton to amateurs may have been the catalyst for its upswing in popularity. Most notably, Nino Bibbia, a modest fruit and vegetable merchant from St. Moritz, took Olympic gold at the 1948 event. With the advent of the first artificially refrigerated track in 1969 at Königssee/Berchtesgaden, Germany, athletes are currently able to practice the sport regardless of weather conditions. Modern day Nino Bibbias such as Kevin Ellis, an accountant from Dallas, Texas, who have secured positions on their national Olympic teams continue to propagate the sport forward into the spotlight. [cite news |url= |newspaper=The Dallas Morning News |title=Dallas Skeleton Crew Eyes Olympics - The Dallas Morning News |accessdate=2007-07-20 |format= html ]

Skeleton is a fast-moving sliding sport during which athletes experience forces up to, but not exceeding, 5Gs, a stipulation enforced by the FIBT. Given the speeds attained by sliders (up to 130 km/h (80 mph)), they are not allowed any steering or braking mechanisms. Rather, steering is managed by slight shifts of the athlete on the sled and by dragging the feet. [cite encyclopedia |year=2004 |title =SKELETON, in winter sports |encyclopedia=The Columbia Encyclopedia |publisher=Columbia University Press]

The sport is also promoted by skeleton officials as a gateway sport to, “train young, aspiring athletes…for their future career in bobsleigh.”

The major competitions of non-Olympic seasons include the World Championships and World Cups, held annually. The rankings and results from these competitions determine the starting positions for future races. The track becomes less smooth after each successive run; thus, the negative effect on run times makes earlier starts in the lineup more desirable. Based on the overall performance of a country, the FIBT determines which countries may participate in the Olympic games. For the male competition, the best 12 nations based on World Cup rankings may participate, whereas for ladies, the best 8 may do so.cite book |title= FIBT International Skeleton Rules |origyear= 2005 |url= |format= Word Document |accessdate= 2007-07-20 ]

Olympic rules

* Skeleton must use the same track as bobsleigh and luge, at least 1200 m (1312 yards) long
* A run begins with a running "push" phase (typically 25 to 40 metres)
* After pushing, the athlete dives onto the sled and descends the track
* Athletes must lie prone, facing downhill, with arms at their sides
* Only the force produced by the athlete and the force of gravity are permitted to propel the skeleton
* The skeleton must be steered by movements of the athlete's body

The Track

"For more information about the tracks used, please see List of bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton tracks".

Skeleton shares the same tracks as the sports of bobsleigh and luge. Most races take place on man-made ice surfaces, though some natural ice tracks, such as St. Moritz, are still used. The tracks run from 1200 – 1650 m, 1200 m of which are downhill. The final 100 – 150 m may contain uphill stretches that are no greater than 12% gradient and may contain bends. Most tracks contain a combination of 15 bends, though the famous Cresta Run follows its original course and contains only 10.

“Like the other sliding sports of bobsleigh and luge, the start is crucial in skeleton – where a tenth of a second lead at the start can become three-tenths of a second by the bottom of the run – so these athletes train much like sprinters to develop the powerful legs they need to explode onto the track. But speed is not the only factor: they must also find the best line and steer smoothly through each turn to keep their speed high. [cite web |url= |title= Skeleton |accessdate=2007-07-20 |format= html ] ”

The starting area is composed of a 15 m push-off stretch followed by a straight 60 m stretch during which the athlete typically reach speeds up to 35 km/h. The British Bob Skeleton Association defines the initial 20-30 m of track as a sprint area before the slider dives onto his sled. Push-off grips are also installed along the sides of the track to assist athletes in obtaining max starting speeds.

The “First Stretch” of the track is defined as the first 2/3 of the track. It traditionally contains the most demanding elements of the track with regard to the driving technique required of the athlete. The route following the first 250 m of track is designed to allow the athlete to reach maximum speed – anywhere from 80 – 100 km/h. The track following time-keeping (the finish line) remains straight, allowing athletes to safely slow their sleds.

The Sled

“The ‘toboggans’ used in Alpine countries at the end of the 19th century were inspired by Canadian/Indian sleds used for transport.” Various additions and redesigning efforts by athletes have led to the skeleton sleds used today. In 1892, L.P. Child introduced the “America,” a new metal sled that revolutionized skeleton as a sport. The stripped-down design provided a compact sled with metal runners, and the design caught on quickly. In 1902, Arden Bott added a sliding seat to help athletes shift their weight forward and backward, a feature that is no longer included on modern sleds.

Today, the FIBT restricts the materials with which skeleton sleds are permitted to be made. Sled frames must be made of steel and may not include steering or braking mechanisms. The base plate, however, may be made of plastics. The handles and bumpers found along the sides of the sled help secure the athlete during a run.

Further specifications are included in FIBT ruling regarding sled dimensions:

Some athletes opt to attach ballasts to their sled if the combined weight of athlete and sled runs below the maximum combined weight. However, these ballasts may only be added to the sled, not the rider.


Length: 800-1200mm

Height: 80-200mm

Distance Between Runners: 340-380mm

Equipment worn by athletes

* alpine racing helmet with chinguard, or a skeleton specific helmet
* skin-tight racing speedsuit
* spiked shoes, similar to track spikes
* goggles or face shields
* optional elbow and shoulder pads under their suits


Alberta Skeleton Association []

Located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada home of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Offers racing and tuition. Has produced international-level athletes.

Bavarian Skeleton Club

Established in 1969 in Munich, Germany and headed by Senator Hans Riedmayer and Max Probst (himself a skeleton bob engineer), the club was important in organizing some of the first national and international skeleton events in Konigsee, Tirol, and Czechoslovakia.

British Bob Skeleton Association []

The Official British Bob Skeleton organization whose members include both athletes and fans alike. Their website includes volumes of information regarding the sport, history, events, photographs, among other news and updates on athletes and the sport.

Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing [] (FIBT)

Established in 1923, the FIBT is the official governing body for the sport.

St. Moritz Tobogganing Club

A private club founded in 1887 by Major Bulpetts of St. Moritz. Membership is selective from applicants on their “Supplementary List.” St. Moritz is the birthplace of the sport.


1882 – English soldiers in Switzerland construct first challenge sledding course

1884 – Brits raced recreationally from St. Moritz to Celerina in Switzerland

1887 – Cresta Run constructed Head-first riding position introduced at Switzerland’s Grand National competition

1892 – L.P. Child introduces the “America”

1902 – Sliding seat added to new sled design, later dropped

1905 – Styria holds first skeleton competition in Muerzzuschlag

1906 – Austrian Championship

1923 – The Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) is established

1926 – International Olympic Committee officially declares skeleton as an Olympic sport

1928 – Jennison Heaton wins first Olympic gold in Skeleton

1948 – Nino Bibbia wins Olympic gold in skeleton’s 2nd winter games appearance

1969 – 1st artificially refrigerated track built in West Germany Bavarian Skeleton Club established in Munich

1974 – Officially recognized by Deutsche Bob und Schlittensport Verband (German Bobsleigh and Luge Organisation)

1986 – FIBT begins funding skeleton

1989 - Skeleton is included officially in the FIBT World Championships

1998 – Skeleton World Championship aired live on Eurosport for the first time

1999 – Skeleton included in Olympic Games program, scheduled to debut in 2002 Winter Games

2000 - Women's skeleton debuts at the FIBT World Championships

2002 – First permanent Olympic skeleton competition held in Salt Lake City, Utah

ee also

*FIBT World Championships
*List of Skeleton World Cup champions


External links

* [ Skeleton Italia official site]
* [ Torino 2006 Skeleton rules]
* [ Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Toboganning (FIBT)] World governing body.
* [ UBSBF] Governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in the USA.
* [ Bobsleigh CANADA Skeleton] Governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in Canada.
* [ Alberta Skeleton Association] The Provincial governing body for the sport of Skeleton in Alberta.
* [ British Bob Skeleton Association] British governing body for bob skeleton.
* [] Introductory site about the sport, from a participant.
* [] A slider community site with a satirical news take on the sport.

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