What Is Skeleton

Skeleton is a thrilling Olympic winter sport in which athletes compete in four runs down a mile-long track. Positioned on their chests on top of a thin, long, metal sled, the goal is to achieve the lowest combined time out of all four runs. Competitors of this sport mainly hail from three continents: Europe, North America, and Asia. One of three main sledding sports, skeleton has an interesting history and the sport is exciting to watch, as athletes often reach speeds over 80mph.

  • Description: Skeleton is an Olympic Winter Sport in which the goal is to be the fastest rider down a steep, windy, mile long track.
  • Founded By: English soldiers, later a specific sled was developed for the sport by an Englishman only known by “Mr. Child”
  • Founded Date: 1882
  • Governing Bodies: International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF), International Olympic Committee (IOC), United States of America Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation (USABSF)
  • Countries: American Samoa, Austria, Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Korea, Latvia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, USA
  • Regions: North America, Europe, and Asia
  • Categories: Activities, Winter Sports, Individual Sports, Outdoor Sports, Sports, Sledding Sports

History of Skeleton

In 1882, British soldiers stationed in St. Moritz, Switzerland, developed the previous English sledding sport, referred to as Cresta, into the game of Skeleton. Both the gameplay and the goal of the new sport was simple: hop chest down, face first, on a sled, and be the first one to the bottom of the track. By 1906, the popularity of the sport began spreading out of Switzerland, when Austria held their first skeleton championship. Eventually, a governing body was formed, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF). Formulated in 1923, IBSF is still the primary governing body of skeleton athletics today. 

Skeleton’s road to becoming an Olympic sport still had a long way to go and involved three separate Olympic debuts. Despite quickly making its debut in the 1928 Winter Games, the sport was not given a permanent place in the Olympics that year. Nor did it take up permanency at its second showing in 1948. Finally, in 2002, skeleton became a regularly hosted event in the Winter Olympics, and skeleton riders from around the world compete for gold, silver, and bronze to this day.

One of the most skilled skeleton athletes is Martins Dukurs of Latvia, who has won eight skeleton World Cup titles and has been crowned World Champion on five different occasions. Tina Hermann has meanwhile won the World Championship four times in the Women’s Skeleton category. Katie Uhlaender, whose father was a Cincinnati Reds center fielder, has herself brought three bronze medals back to the United States, on top of one silver medal in 2008.

Rules of Skeleton

Today, the goal of skeleton is still to be the fastest rider. Now, competitions are made up of four runs for each sledder. Each run is timed individually and the athlete with the lowest combined score is crowned the winner. Skeleton riders usually try to keep as close to the ground as possible, in order to build and maintain speed. However, the speed the sledder is able to achieve also has a lot to do with their running start, weight distribution, and how they choose to take advantage of the ability to move around, and even get off the sled, to build momentum. All of these strategies are allowed, however, the athlete must be on the sled while crossing the finish line. 

Sledding sports can look extremely similar to the untrained eye. The three major sledding sports in the Winter Olympics are skeleton, bobsled, and luge. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to tell the sports apart. The body placement of the rider on the sled is the main way to differentiate between these three competitions: In skeleton, the rider lays stomach down on the sled, while in bobsled, the rider sits within the sled, and in luge, the rider lays on their back.

Skeleton Equipment

The most important pieces of skeleton equipment are the sleds. Skeleton sleds are typically 30-48 inches long and are made of fiberglass and steel. Athletes, their sleds, and all of their equipment cannot weigh more than 254 pounds for men, and 204 pounds for women. Athletes also wear protective gear, gloves and a helmet, specific spiked shoes, and sometimes weights to meet the weight requirements. A regulation skeleton track is approximately a mile long (or 1.6km). 


How does skeleton work?

Each skeleton competition consists of four timed runs per rider, after all riders have completed their runs, the times are added together and the rider with the lowest combined score wins. Typically, the strategy is to lay flat to increase speed. However, moving weight and even moving off the sled is sometimes used to gain speed. This is allowed, as long as the rider is fully on the sled when crossing the finish line.

Who created skeleton?

British soldiers created skeleton in 1882. Later, a man named Mr. Child developed a sled specifically for skeleton courses. St. Moritz, Switzerland, is considered the birthplace of skeleton, as the English inventors used their knowledge from the similar sport of Cresta to embark down a winding track from Davos to Klosters (Switzerland). Two years later, the first framed skeleton track was established in St. Moritz. Fittingly, the two Olympic Games in which skeleton was first featured were both played in Switzerland. 

Is skeleton an Olympic sport?

Yes, skeleton is an Olympic sport. Skeleton was first featured in the Olympics in 1928, and again in 1948. An outlier sport, skeleton was missing from the Olympics for 52 years after these first two Games. The IBSF worked hard to collect enough interest amongst countries to establish skeleton as a regular Olympic event. By 1994, IBSF had caught the interest of 25 participating countries, critical to bringing skeleton back to the Olympics. Skeleton finally returned to the Olympics in Park City, Utah, in 2002 and has remained since.