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 and head-first. The sport and the sled may have been named from the bony appearance of the sled.
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 skeleton sled is thinner and heavier than the luge sled, and skeleton affords the rider more control, making it safer than luge. Skeleton is the slowest of the three sliding sports, as skeleton’s face-down, head-first riding position is less aerodynamic than luge’s face-up, feet-first ride.
Previously, skeleton appeared in the Olympic program in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1928 and again in 1948. It was added permanently to the Olympic program for the 2002 Winter Olympics, at which stage a women’s race was added.
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 in Switzerland. 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. The source of the word is debated; some speculating the skeleton-like appearance original sleds, and others an incorrectly anglicized version of the Norwegian word for toboggan, “Kjaelke”.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. It was not until 2002, however, that skeleton returned to the Olympic Winter Games after a 54-year absence, with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2015, the FIBT was renamed the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF), and the Congress of the IBSF adopted its current governing statutes in 2016.
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. The IBSF operates a support program for “emerging nations”, which provides travel, coaching, and equipment funding assistance to countries which have neither a track nor three qualified pilots in three IBSF disciplines; in 2017, 20 national federations qualified for financial support in men’s skeleton, and 11 qualified in women’s skeleton.
The IBSF organizes four competitive circuits for international skeleton competition, in three tiers: two Continental Cups, the Intercontinental Cup (ICC), and the top level World Cup. Each athlete receives points based on their results and the level of the competition, which are used to determine both their rankings on each circuit they race in and also an overall ranking across all four circuits.
National federations are assigned athlete quota spots in the higher levels according to the overall rankings of their individual athletes during the previous season, but are free to send any qualified athlete to a competition in which they have available quota. However, individual athletes’ discipline rankings are used to determine the start order for the first heat of each race: the track becomes less smooth after each successive run, so earlier starts are more desirable. In the second (fourth at the World Championships and Winter Olympics) heat, the competitors start in reverse order of their ranking after the previous heat. (At four-heat races, start order in heats two and three is in ascending order of combined time from the prior heats.)
In addition to the four race series, the IBSF also organizes World Championships, which are held at the end of every sliding season except when the Olympic Winter Games are held, and a Junior World Championships (open to athletes aged 23 and under) which are held annually without regard to the Olympics. One race each World Cup season is also designated the European Championship. The IBSF cooperates with the International Olympic Committee to supervise the skeleton races at the Olympic Winter Games, and the IBSF ranking system is used to determine the National Olympic Committees’ athlete quota allocations.
On all of the regular competitive circuits, the race days are preceded by three or four days of pre-race training to allow athletes to learn the intricacies of each track, and each athlete must complete a certain number of successful training runs to be eligible to compete. Normally, if the same competition also includes bobsleigh races, the skeleton races will be held first, as the heavier bobsleighs do more damage to the track.
The two Continental Cup series are the Europe Cup (also called “Europa Cup” and “European Cup”) and the North American Cup. Both series are open to athletes from all participating nations, but with some restrictions: the top 15 athletes in combined ranking are not permitted to race in the Continental Cups, and athletes are not permitted to race unless their team has filled all of its assigned quota sports in the World Cup. In addition, teams are limited to four athletes on their home continent and two athletes on the other continent. (For the purposes of this restriction, African teams are considered to be home on the Europe Cup and Asian, Oceanian, and South American teams are home on the North American Cup.)
As the bottom level of international skeleton competition, race results in the Continental Cups are assigned the lowest point values for ranking, with a first-place finish being with 75 points (compared to 120 points for the Intercontinental Cup and 225 points for the World Cup). Only the top 30 athletes receive ranking points; 30th place is worth 1 point. However, two races are generally held in each discipline on a single race weekend, allowing consistently competitive athletes to earn a higher ranking than if they went to a single World Cup race and finished poorly.
The Intercontinental Cup (ICC) was introduced as an intermediate level between the Continental Cups and the World Cup; a first-place finish is worth 120 points in the IBSF ranking (vs. 225 points for a World Cup win). Teams with three athletes in the top 60 (top 45 for women) of the IBSF overall ranking for the previous year may send three athletes (not necessarily the same ones) to each ICC race; teams with two athletes in the top 75 (top 60 for women) may send two; and all other teams may send one athlete each. In order to be eligible to race in the ICC, athletes must have received a ranking in at least five IBSF competitions at three different tracks in the previous two years.
The World Cup is the top level of international skeleton competition, and has the most stringent team quotas, with no teams receiving an automatic entry. To qualify, a team must have placed at least one athlete in the top 60 of the overall ranking table (top 45 for women); teams with two athletes in the top 50 (top 35 for women) receive two quota spots, and teams with three athletes in the top 30 (top 25 for women) receive three. The same athlete experience requirements as apply to the ICC also apply to the World Cup. At the end of the World Cup season, the man and woman with the highest ranking, considering only points earned in World Cup races, are given a trophy known as the “Crystal Globe”.
One World Cup race a year may be designated as a continental championship for the continent on which it is held. This championship is a “paper” race, based only on the times in the regularly scheduled World Cup event, with the athletes representing a different continent excluded. Currently, this is done only in Europe; the 2017/18 European Championship races were the World Cup races held on 15 December 2017 at Innsbruck, Austria. The current European champions are Martins Dukurs of Latvia and Elena Nikitina of Russia.
Senior World Championships
In non-Olympic years, a national federation volunteers to organize the (Senior) World Championships (for both bobsleigh and skeleton), which are open to all athletes meeting the experience requirements that apply to the World Cup and the ICC (including junior athletes). The quota system for the Senior World Championships is the same as for the World Cup, except that all national federations are entitled to send one athlete. The defending Junior World Champion in each discipline also receives an automatic entry. Unlike all other IBSF-sponsored races, the World Championships use a two-day, four-heat format, with rankings determined by total time for all four heats.
The 2016/17 World Championships were held at Königssee bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track in Bavaria, 24–26 February 2017. Martins Dukurs of Latvia won the men’s competition and Jacqueline Lölling of Germany won the women’s competition. Because 2018 was an Olympic year, no World Championships were held for the 2017/18 season.
Junior World Championships
The Junior World Championships are held every year, but are scheduled to avoid conflict with the Olympics and the Senior World Championships. Junior athletes are those who are under 23 years of age, or who turn 23 at some point during the competitive season. All countries are entitled to send up to three athletes to the Junior World Championships, subject to the requirement that each entrant must have finished at least three IBSF sanctioned competitions on at least two tracks in the previous two years.
Olympic Winter Games
The skeleton event in the Winter Olympics uses the same two-day, four-heat format as the World Championships, but team quotas are significantly smaller. The International Olympic Committee assigns athlete quotas to national Olympic committees in cooperation with the IBSF and using the IBSF ranking system to determine qualification; 20 women and 30 men competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, with one automatic quota going to the host country (Korea) for each gender. For men, three countries received three quota spots each, six were allocated two spots, and five got one; for women, two countries received three spots, four got two, and two got one. The ranking of the countries for quota assignment was based on their third-highest, second-highest, or highest ranked athlete in total IBSF ranking over the qualification period. In addition, three quota spots are reserved for countries whose continent did not receive any representation based on this assignment procedure.
National Olympic Committees may send athletes other than the ones whose rankings earned the quota spot, but the athletes chosen must be ranked in the top 60 (for men) or top 45 (for women) on the IBSF list and meet similar experience requirements to those that apply to the World Cup. However, IBSF rule 4.1 provides that, for the purposes of determining the top 60 (or top 45) qualification, lower-ranking athletes from countries which have already received a full quota are “cleaned” from the list before an athlete’s ordinal ranking is determined This had the effect of allowing continental representatives for Africa into the 2018 games, as they would otherwise have been too low on the ranking list to qualify (notably, Nigerian slider Simidele Adeagbo was ranked 74th before cleaning, but was in the top 45 after application of rule 4.1).
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, Switzerland, took Olympic gold at the 1948 event. 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. The sport is also promoted by skeleton officials as a gateway sport to “train young, aspiring athletes…for their future career in bobsleigh.”
“The ‘toboggans’ used in Alpine countries at the end of the 19th century were inspired by Canadian/Indian sleds used for transport”. 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.
|Maximum combined weight
(athlete + sled)
|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 maximum combined weight. These ballasts may only be added to the sled, not the rider.
- Length: 80–120 cm (31.5–47.2 in)
- Height: 8–20 cm (3.1–7.9 in)
- Distance between runners: 340–380 mm (13.4–15.0 in)
- alpine racing helmet with chin guard, or a skeleton-specific helmet
- skin-tight racing speedsuit made of uncoated textile material
- spiked shoes, similar to track spikes
- goggles or face shields
- optional elbow and shoulder pads under their suits
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation||Established in 1923 as Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT),and renamed in 2015, the FIBSF is the official governing body for the sport. Its headquarters are in Lausanne, Switzerland.|
|St. Moritz Tobogganing Club||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
|Olympic Athletes from Russia||0||1||0||1|
|Totals (10 nations)||7||7||7||21|
|Totals (6 nations)||5||5||5||15|
Total Olympic ranking (2018)
|Olympic Athletes from Russia||0||1||0||1|
|Totals (11 nations)||12||12||12||36|
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- Nelson, Dustin (19 February 2018). “Here’s How You Can Tell the Difference Between Luge, Skeleton, and Bobsled”. Thrillist.com. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
- “St. Moritz Tobogganing Club”. Archived from the original on 9 December 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
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- “World Championship”. International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation. 26 February 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
- “World Championship”. International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation. 25 February 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
- “Skeleton Athletes Anna Fernstädt and Nikita Tregubov Junior World Champions” (Press release). International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. 25 January 2018. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
- “Qualification System for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018: Skeleton” (PDF). International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
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- “Skeleton, in winter sports”. The Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press. 2004.
- IBSF International Skeleton Rules (pdf). 2015. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
- “CDBG homepage”. Cbdg.org.br. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
- “Cresta Run homepage”. Cresta-run.com. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
- Torino 2006 Skeleton rules
- Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Toboganning (FIBT) World governing body.
- USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) Governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in the USA.
- Bobsleigh CANADA Skeleton Governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in Canada.
- Alberta Skeleton Association The Provincial governing body for the sport of Skeleton in Alberta.
- NewSliders.com Introductory site about the sport, from a participant.
- OSSP6P, The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Sliding Sports Pick 6 Pool selection page.