Skeleton (sport)


Brady Canfield pushes off at the start
Highest governing body Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing
First played Late 19th century, Switzerland
Contact No
Team members 1
Type Winter sport, time trial
Venue Skeleton tracks
Olympic 1928, 1948, 2002 to present

Skeleton is a winter sliding sport in which a person rides a small sled, known as a skeleton bobsled (or -sleigh) down a frozen track while lying face down (prone), as well as the name of the sled employed. Unlike other sliding sports of bobsleigh and luge, the race always involves single riders. Like bobsleigh, but unlike luge, the race begins with a running start from the opening gate at the top of the course. The sport (and the sled) were named from the bony appearance of the sled.[1]

Previously, skeleton bob appeared in the Olympic program in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1928 and again in 1948.[2] It was added permanently to the Olympic program for the 2002 Winter Olympics, at which stage a women's race was added.

During elite racing the rider experiences forces up to 5 g and reaches speeds over 130 km/h (80 mph).[1]


The skeleton originated in St. Moritz, Switzerland, as a spinoff of the popular British sport called Cresta sledding. Although skeleton "sliders" use equipment similar to that of Cresta "riders", the two sports are different: while skeleton is run on the same track used by bobsleds and luge, Cresta is run on Cresta-specific sledding tracks only. Skeleton sleds are steered using torque provided by the head and shoulders. The Cresta toboggan does not have a steering or braking mechanism, though Cresta riders use rakes on their boots in addition to shifting body weight to help steer and brake.

The sport of skeleton can be traced to 1882, when English soldiers constructed a toboggan track between the towns of Davos and Klosters. While toboggan tracks were not uncommon at the time, the added challenge of curves and bends in the Swiss track distinguished it from those of Canada and the United States.[3]

Approximately 30 km (20 mi) away in the winter sports town of St. Moritz, British men had long enjoyed racing one another down the busy, winding streets of the town, causing an uproar among citizens because of the danger to pedestrians and visiting tourists. In 1884, Major William Bulpett, with the backing of winter sports pioneer and Kulm hotel owner Caspar Badrutt, constructed Cresta Run, the first sledding track of its kind in St. Moritz.[4] The track ran three-quarters of a mile from St. Moritz to Celerina and contained ten turns still used today. When the Winter Olympic Games were held at St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948, the Cresta Run was included in the program, marking the only two times skeleton was included as an Olympic event before its permanent addition in 2002 to the Winter Games.[2]

In the 1887 Grand National competition in St. Moritz, a Mr. Cornish introduced the now-traditional head-first position, a trend that was in full force by the 1890 Grand National.[2][5]

International expansion

Until 1905, skeleton was practiced mainly in Switzerland; however, in 1905, Styria held its first skeleton competition in Mürzzuschlag, Austria. This opened the door to other national skeleton competitions including the Austrian championship held the following year. In 1908 and 1910, skeleton competitions were held in the Semmering Pass.[3] As the popularity of the sport grew, skeleton evolved into the sport recognized today. In 1892, the sled was transformed by L. P. Child, an Englishman. The newly designed bare-bones sled resembled a human skeleton, and the sport adopted its modern name of skeleton, though it is still recognized as tobogganing in many countries.[3]

In 1923, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was established as the governing body of the sport. Soon afterward, in 1926, the International Olympic Committee declared bobsleigh and skeleton as Olympic sports and adopted the rules of the St. Moritz run as the officially recognized Olympic rules.[3] It was not until 2002, however, that skeleton itself was added to the Olympic program with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Popularity in the sport has grown since the 2002 Winter Olympics and now includes participation by some countries that do not have or cannot have a track because of climate, terrain or monetary limitations. Athletes from such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, South Africa, Argentina, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, and even the Virgin Islands have become involved with the sport in recent years. However, the FIBT narrows the field greatly and only a few dozen countries compete in the Winter Olympic Games.


The accessibility of skeleton to amateurs may have been the catalyst for its upswing in popularity. Most notably, Nino Bibbia, a fruit and vegetable merchant from St. Moritz, took Olympic gold at the 1948 event.[4] With the advent of the first artificially refrigerated track in 1969 at Königssee/Berchtesgaden, Germany, athletes are currently able to practice the sport regardless of weather conditions.[3][6] The sport is also promoted by skeleton officials as a gateway sport to “train young, aspiring athletes…for their future career in bobsleigh.”[3]

The major competitions of non-Olympic seasons include the World Championships and World Cups, held annually. The rankings and results from these competitions determine the starting positions for future races.[3] The track becomes less smooth after each successive run; thus, the negative effect on run times makes earlier starts in the lineup more desirable. Based on the overall performance of a country, the FIBT determines which countries may participate in the Olympic games. For the male competition, the best 12 nations based on World Cup rankings may participate, whereas for ladies, the best 8 may do so.[7]



“The ‘toboggans’ used in Alpine countries at the end of the 19th century were inspired by Canadian/Indian sleds used for transport”.[3] Various additions and redesigning efforts by athletes have led to the skeleton sleds used today. In 1892, L. P. Child introduced the “America”, a new metal sled that revolutionized skeleton as a sport. The stripped-down design provided a compact sled with metal runners, and the design caught on quickly. In 1902, Arden Bott added a sliding seat to help athletes shift their weight forward and backward, a feature that is no longer included on modern sleds.

In 2010, the FIBT restricted the materials with which skeleton sleds are permitted to be made. Sled frames must be made of steel and may not include steering or braking mechanisms. The base plate, however, may be made of plastics. The handles and bumpers found along the sides of the sled help secure the athlete during a run.[7]

Further specifications are included in the FIBT ruling regarding sled dimensions:[3][7]

Maximum combined weight
(athlete + sled)
sled weight
Men 115 kg (253.5 lb) 43 kg (94.8 lb)
Women  92 kg (202.8 lb) 35 kg (77.2 lb)

Some athletes opt to attach ballasts if the combined weight of athlete and sled falls below the minimum combined weight. However, these ballasts may only be added to the sled, not the rider.



Organization Description
Alberta Skeleton Association Located in Calgary, Alberta, home of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Offers racing and tuition. Has produced international-level athletes.
Bavarian Skeleton Club Established in 1969 in Munich, Germany, and headed by Senator Hans Riedmayer and Max Probst (himself a skeleton bob engineer), the club was important in organizing some of the first national and international skeleton events in Konigsee, Tirol, and Czechoslovakia.[4]
Brazilian Ice Sports Federation The Official Brazilian Bob Skeleton organization was established in 1996 in Rio de Janeiro. Their website includes a great deal of information regarding the sport, its history, events, photographs, news and updates on athletes and the sport.[8]
British Bob Skeleton Association The Official British Bob Skeleton organization whose members include both athletes and fans. Their website includes a great deal of information regarding the sport, its history, events, photographs, news and updates on athletes and the sport.[4]
Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) Established in 1923, the FIBT is the official governing body for the sport.
St. Moritz Tobogganing Club[9] A private club founded in 1887 by Major Bulpetts of St. Moritz. Membership is selected from applicants on their “Supplementary List”. St. Moritz is the birthplace of the sport.

Olympic medal table

For more details on this topic, see List of Olympic medalists in skeleton.


Current Olympic champion: 1st, gold medalist(s)  Russia (RUS) Aleksandr Tretyakov 2nd, silver medalist(s)  Latvia (LAT) Martins Dukurs 3rd, bronze medalist(s)  United States (USA) Matthew Antoine

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  United States 2 2 1 5
2  Canada 2 1 0 3
3  Russia 1 0 1 2
4  Italy 1 0 0 1
5  Latvia 0 2 0 2
6  Austria 0 1 0 1
=7  Great Britain 0 0 2 2
=7  Switzerland 0 0 2 2
Total 6 6 6 18


Current Olympic champion: 1st, gold medalist(s)  Great Britain (GBR) Lizzy Yarnold 2nd, silver medalist(s)  United States (USA) Noelle Pikus-Pace 3rd, bronze medalist(s)  Russia (RUS) Elena Nikitina

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Great Britain 2 1 1 4
2  United States 1 2 0 3
3  Switzerland 1 0 0 1
4  Germany 0 1 1 2
=5  Canada 0 0 1 1
=5  Russia 0 0 1 1
Total 4 4 4 12

Total Olympic ranking (2014)

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  United States 3 4 1 8
2  Great Britain 2 1 3 6
3  Canada 2 1 1 4
=4  Russia 1 0 2 3
=4  Switzerland 1 0 2 3
6  Italy 1 0 0 1
7  Latvia 0 2 0 2
8  Germany 0 1 1 2
9  Austria 0 1 0 1
Total 10 10 10 30

See also


  1. 1 2 Skeleton sledding Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013-07-23.
  2. 1 2 3 "St. Moritz Tobogganing Club". Retrieved 2007-07-18.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "History". 1999-10-02. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "British Bob Skeleton Association". Retrieved 2007-07-18.
  5. "Skeleton Sledding". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2007.
  6. "Skeleton, in winter sports". The Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press. 2004.
  7. 1 2 3 FIBT International Skeleton Rules (Word Document). 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  8. Brazilian Ice Sports Federation website
  9. Cresta Run website
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