Bone up and become a skeleton instant expert

If you were one of those kids who went sledding head-first in direct defiance of parental warnings, then skeleton is the Olympic sport for you. Here's everything you need to know to instantly become a skeleton expert.

Everything you need to get a head start on this extreme Olympic sport

Canadian slider Elisabeth Vathje finished third overall on this year's World Cup circuit, all while rocking a Wonder Woman-inspired helmet. (Johann Groder/AFP/Getty Images)

​By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports

If you were one of those kids who went sledding head-first in direct defiance of parental warnings, then skeleton is the Olympic sport for you.

Sliders bomb down an icy track at triple-digit speeds while lying on their stomachs in what's become one of the more compelling sports at the Winter Games since its return from a 54-year absence.

Here's everything you need to know to instantly become a skeleton expert:

History and format

  • Developed in St. Moritz in the 1880s
  • Men's event contested at the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics
  • Returned to Olympics in 2002 with men's and women's events

How the events work

  • Events consist of four runs over two days
  • Lowest total time wins

Dive on in

Skeleton, luge and bobsleigh all use the same ice track for competition, with the three sports sharing Swiss origins from the late 19th century. Races begin with the sliders sprinting alongside their sled with one hand on the saddle before hopping on top to begin their descent down the track.

Oh, and the sleds don't have any brakes or steering mechanisms, so athletes navigate by subtly shifting their body weight. 

The 'bucket' list

Equipment in skeleton is pretty bare bones — couldn't resist — but allows for a great deal of customization. Sleds are engineered specifically for each rider within the size regulations.

That means an athlete is at a severe disadvantage if, say, an airline loses his sled ahead of the Olympic trials.

Race suits and spikes are pretty standard when it comes to high-performance sport, but the helmets in skeleton are where the athletes can have some fun. It's pretty much the only part of their bodies that spectators can see, and sliders' designs range from the solid to the sponsored, but there a few notable ones including a Wonder Woman tribute on one and a literal skull on another.

What's in a name?

There are a couple of theories as to where the sport got its unique name: one origin story chalks it up to the skeletal appearance of L.P. Child's sled with metal runners, while another attributes it to an inaccurate Anglicization of kjaelke, a Norwegian ice sled.

For those of you reading this in hopes of finding the xylophonic ribcages associated with cartoon skeletons, here are a few notable names that should get you into even the most secret society at Yale:

  • Skeletor: Sworn enemy of He-Man and scourge of Eternia who hopefully won't be the subject of a childhood-ruining blockbuster directed by Michael Bay.
  • Jack Skellington: Five words: Tim Burton stop-motion musical.
  • Red Skelton: Not to be confused with Captain America's nemesis, the Red Skull.
  • Geoff Peterson: Craig Ferguson's lewd robot sidekick who, like the quirky Scot, should return to the small screen soon.

Fast facts for fascinating friends

Still craving more skeleton information? Well, put down that anatomy textbook and properly educate yourself:

  • Latvian slider Martins Dukurs's streak of eight consecutive overall World Cup titles ended this year, but he's still expected to be a gold-medal favourite at the Winter Olympics.
  • Calgary's Elisabeth Vathje finished third in the overall World Cup standings this season, giving her plenty of momentum heading into Pyeongchang.
  • Canada owns four Olympic skeleton medals — including two gold — but the country's most memorable moment in the sport came after Jon Montgomery's winning run in 2010, when a fan handed the Olympic champ a pitcher of beer on national television. The rest is history.


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