Skeleton: history, competition rules, equipment features


In the article “Skeleton” you will learn about the winter sport in which athletes descend on special sleds on an icy track at a speed of 150 kilometers per hour.

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Skeleton is a winter sport that was invented on the basis of the traditional toboggan (wooden sled) popular among Canadian Indians back in the 16th century. In this sport, athletes go down icy tracks on special sleds (skeletons), lying on their stomachs and facing forward, reaching speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour.

Skeleton 1925
Skeleton 1925

At the end of the 19th century, the Englishman Child introduced a two-slide sled made of 22 mm wide metal strips. It is assumed that the sled got its name “skeleton” because of its visual resemblance to a human skeleton. There is also an assumption that the word “skele” arose from a misreading of the Norwegian word “kjaelke”, which Norwegian fishermen call their sleds.

The first track for skeleton was built already in 1884 in Switzerland, but due to the lack of ice tracks all over the world this sport was presented only at 2 Olympic Games (1928, 1948), until in 1964 it was finally replaced by luge.

Skeleton returned to the Olympic family after 54 years of stagnation in 2002 at the Games in the USA. At these competitions, the Americans distinguished themselves by winning two gold medals in men’s and women’s events. It is this country that is currently the leader in terms of awards.

Alexander Tretyakov
Alexander Tretyakov

Twenty-eight countries, including Russia, participate in skeleton competitions. In the USSR, skeleton was not developed at all, because at the time the Soviet Union joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1951, skeleton was no longer cultivated as an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, in the early 2000s Russian athletes demonstrated good results on the international arena.

In 2002 Ekaterina Mironova took 7th place at the Salt Lake City Olympics. The next year she won a silver medal at the World Championships in Calgary and set a new record of acceleration on the track. It was the first medal for our country in the sport.

Krasnoyarsk-born Alexander Tretyakov brought Russia its first Olympic gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and Elena Nikitina won bronze in Sochi, the first Olympic medal for women.

What is going on in skeleton, since it is called almost the most dangerous winter sport? Competitions are held on a track according to the rules of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. The track is an ice chute with a length from 1500 to 2000 meters with a height difference from 100 to 150 meters.

For the first 30-40 meters athletes push the sled (accelerate) and then lie face down on it. Unlike luge, in skeleton, the athlete lies on his stomach with his head forward, and in fact, only a helmet is used for insurance.

Accelerating in skeleton
Accelerating in skeleton

Sometimes it seems that such a trip may be the last, but during the existence of this sport there have been much fewer accidents than, for example, in bobsleigh.

The design of the sled itself plays an important role in safety. The skids of the projectile are specially rounded, which minimizes the number of overturns. The maximum speed is 146.4 kilometers per hour (Alexander Tretyakov, 2010, Vancouver). There are obstacles, turns, and sharp turns in the form of a snake on the track.

Skeleton sled
Skeleton sled

To pass them safely, the athlete can shift his body weight slightly to one side or the other. At the end of the race, he slows down the skeleton with his feet until it comes to a complete stop. There are special spikes on the toes of the athlete’s shoes, which he uses to slow down.

Sleds in skeleton play an important role and can become the center of attention, whether it is a scandal or a triumph. They are currently a weighted frame with a platform to which steel skids are attached. The skeleton is made of fiberglass and steel, and there are two handles (saddle) on top that adjust to the athlete’s physique.

There are bumpers on the front and back of the sled to protect the athlete from hitting the walls of the ice track. The sled has no steering, as this function is mainly performed by the shoulders. If an athlete presses on the skeleton with the left shoulder, it is moved to the right side, if he presses with the right shoulder, it is moved to the left.

Skeleton sled length
Skeleton sled length

The sled is 80 to 120 centimeters long and 36 centimeters wide. The maximum weight of the sled depends on the gender of the athlete: 43 kilograms for men and 35 kilograms for women. Due to the fact that it is necessary to push the sled in front of them at the start, skeleton athletes train with exercises for sprinters and weightlifters, as well as pass norms on weight lifting, running and jumping.

According to the competition rules, the total weight of the athlete and his sled must not exceed 115 kg for men and 92 kg for women. Since a heavy sled moves faster on the ice, the lack of maximum weight can be compensated by a lead plate, which are attached to the bottom of the sled with bolts or screws.

The winner of the competition is determined by the sum of the time of two or four descents. The one with the lowest time is the winner. The entire skeleton ride usually takes less than a minute, so the phrase “every second counts” has a special meaning for athletes.

Interesting fact!!! It is forbidden to heat the skeleton skids and, as a rule, before each start the organizers check their optimal temperature (should be ≈ 4 °C), and in case of deviation, the athlete is disqualified.

In addition to sleds, skeleton riders use a special aerodynamic suit and shoes with spikes for more precise control of turns and braking. They also wear a special helmet with a visor to protect their head from possible damage.

In skeleton athletes, the helmet is not only a piece of equipment, but also a visual marker of their identity. Athletes try to distinguish themselves from the multitude of competitors by unique helmet coloring.

Skeleton helmet
Skeleton helmet

As it turns out, a certain part of the human soul remains a child’s soul forever. Otherwise, how else to explain the fact that so many children’s activities with a ball have turned into popular sports, and once sledding down the hill into modern skeleton, luge and bobsleigh.

Despite all their dangers, today these sports attract the attention of millions of people who are ready to give up everything for an icy track and great speed. So, if you are ready to experience the adrenaline rush and immerse yourself in the world of speed and energy, skeleton is a winter sport you should look into.

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