2014 Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics: Skeleton

Face first down an icy track

 

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American Jennison Heaton won the first skeleton gold medal in 1928, beating his brother John, who took the silver, by one second. A 39-year-old John Heaton would win the silver again in 1948 finishing second to Italy's Nino Bibbia.

Skeleton made its Olympic return in 2002 after a 54-year absence. Like luge, the sport involves racing a sled down an icy track. Unlike luge, skeleton sleds are ridden face first.

The sport was named when someone commented that a new metal sled, first used in 1892, resembled a skeleton. Its first organized competition took place in the late 1800s in the Swiss village of St. Moritz. Riders raced down the frozen road from St. Moritz to Celerina on simple sleds, and the winner received a bottle of champagne.

It was at the 1928 St. Moritz Winter Games that skeleton made its Olympic debut. But the sport would not reappear until the 1948 Winter Games, which were also held in St. Moritz. Then—just as suddenly—skeleton went back in the closet again until its 2002 reemergence.

Previously a male-only endeavor at the Olympics, women's skeleton appeared for the first time in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

The format for Olympic skeleton involves two timed runs. The top men and women from the first run compete in the second run, which is held later that same day. The combined time of the two runs determines the final standings.

The sled can only be ridden in the prone position (face first, on the stomach), and although the rider can leave the sled to push or move it, he or she must cross the finish line on the sled in order for the run to be considered valid.

Warming the sled's metal runners or using any substance that improves sliding is prohibited. At the start of the race, the temperature of the runners must be within 4°C of the reference runner, which is exposed to the open air for one hour before the start of the competition.

The rules of skeleton have changed since the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino. Each athlete will take four runs, instead of the two runs each athlete was allowed previously.

Most of the athletes who competed in skeleton in 2002, 2006, and 2010 have retired, and Coach Tuffy Latour is bringing a young team to Sochi. Among the most promising Americans are vets Noelle Pikus-Pace and Katie Uhlaender, who finished fourth and 11th in Vancouver, respectively. On the men's side, John Daly, Kyle Tress, and Matt Antoine are hoping to reach the medal stand. Daly competed at Vancouver, and Tress and Antoine are making their Olympic debuts in Sochi.

by Beth Rowen


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