When the Swiss hosted the Olympic Winter Games of 1928 and 1948, “skeleton” was on the program, in the form of “cresta”. Cresta is a unique sliding sport, done only in St. Moritz, on its own track. Skeleton sliding as seen today evolved, and by some accounts preceded bobsleigh – when two skeleton sleds were joined together, with the front used as the steering portion. Following a lengthy effort to “return” it to the Olympic program, men’s and women’s skeleton was presented at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
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. These athletes train much like sprinters to develop 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.
Skeleton competitions are held on the same track as bobsleigh and luge, using the same start position as bobsleigh. From a standing start, the athlete will power his or her sled from the “start block”, accelerating to over 40 km/h, then loading onto the sled. The athlete position is “head first, stomach down” on the sled, utilizing slight shoulder, head or body movements to alter the runner contact with the ice and steer the sled. Able to reach speeds of over 130 km/h, the athletes are at times going faster than bobsleighs.
Skeleton got its name from the sled used — originally metal, now fibreglass and metal — as it resembles a human skeleton.