Beginners Guide to Olympic Skeleton ahead of Sochi 2014

20 January 2014 / 11:53

Skeleton was first part of the Olympic programme when the Games were held in St Moritz, with competitions taking place on the famous Cresta Run in 1928 as the sport made its maiden appearance before returning after a 20-year absence for a second outing as the same venue acted as the host city in 1948.

At St Moritz 1948 the sport was officially known as tobogganing but it was dropped from the schedule in the aftermath. However, having gained popularity in the 1990s, it returned for Salt Lake City 2002 and has remained on the Games programme ever since.

Skeleton is a form of single-person sled racing but, unlike luge sliders, athletes travel face first with their stomach on the sled and reach speeds of over 80 miles an hour on artificial tracks, also used for bobsleigh and luge. Athletes must possess razor sharp reflexes and a strong responsive body core that shifts their weight from one side to the other while steering the skeleton.

Great Britain are third on the all-time medal table behind the USA and Canada, winning five medals, including one gold. Since the sport returned to the Games, Team GB have always secured a women’s podium place with Alex Coomber winning bronze at Salt Lake City 2002, Shelley Rudman securing silver at Turin 2006 and Amy Williams capturing a famous gold four years ago at Vancouver 2010.

Their success continued a tradition established by David Carnegie, who won bronze in 1928, and John Crammond, who took the same colour medal in 1948. No skeleton slider has defended an Olympic title, indeed only one athlete, Switzerland’s Gregor Stähli, has won two medals, with bronzes in 2002 and 2006.

Things to know about Skeleton

Two gold medals are available in Olympic skeleton.

Events take place on the same track as the bobsleigh and starts with a running or push phase, after which the athlete dives onto the sled and descends the track. 

Athletes lie prone, facing downhill, with arms at their sides, steering the skeleton with movements of their body.

A number of timed training runs will be staged before the competition to enable sliders to familiarise themselves with conditions and the track. In addition, all teams have allotted training time on the track in the build-up to the Games.

Competition takes two days, with two runs staged on each day for both men and women. The fastest total time determines the winner, with timings made to 0.01 seconds. If two athletes complete the competition in a tie, they are awarded the same place.

The starting order for the first run is considered crucial by sliders, with a definite advantage to being among the first down the track while the ice is still fresh.

World rankings are used to give the top ranked sliders the benefit of an early start number, with the order of proceeding runs based on rankings after the previous run.

For the second run, the competitors start in reverse order of their time from the first run. 

There are two groups: the fastest 20 from the first run are in the first group, giving them the benefit of optimum conditions. In the first group, the slowest competitor goes first and the fastest competitor goes last. In the second group, the fastest competitor goes first, i.e. 21st down the track to the last competitor in the field.

Sled dimensions are governed by the international federation FIBT with a maximum sled weight and maximum weight for sled and athlete strictly enforced.

Sled frames must be made of steel and may not include steering or braking mechanisms.