Skeleton sliding back to its spiritual home for Youth Olympic Games

Find out more about the head-first sliding sport ahead of the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Hurtling down a winding, frozen track head-first at speeds reaching 80mph: That is skeleton in a nutshell. So allow Olympic champion Amy Williams to go into a little more detail.

“This is a sport that requires complete focus, state-of-the-art equipment and a potent mixture of self-belief and bravery to reach the top,” Williams said on ‘The Art Of Skeleton With Team GB’.

“Not only that, but you need power, poise and absolute precision to reach the bottom. It’s one of the most visually spectacular sports in the Winter Olympics.

“Adrenaline-fuelled and human-powered. This is Skeleton.”

Along with bobsleigh and luge, skeleton will be sliding into view at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in January.

The action will take place away from Lausanne, on the sustainable track of St Moritz - the Swiss resort viewed as skeleton's spiritual home.

So let’s find out more about the sport with a fascinating history, ever-improving technology, and no brakes…

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How to watch Skeleton at Youth Olympic Games

Olympic Channel will stream 300 hours of action from the 13 days of competition in Lausanne 2020 with a dedicated Winter YOG channel available on olympicchannel.com, YouTube and connected devices such as Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Android TV and Roku.

There will be an action-packed daily live show featuring news, highlights, trending stories and interviews in a fun and interactive format streamed on Facebook, Twitter and olympicchannel.com, plus a daily Olympic Channel Podcast featuring insightful interviews with personalities from across the Olympic world.

Fans can also follow Olympic Channel's coverage on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to learn more about the event, while a full schedule of events - including online streaming details can be found here.

Skeleton location and dates

The skeleton takes place in St Moritz on January 19 (women) and January 20 (men) at Lausanne 2020.

events

9 - 22 Jan

Lausanne 2020 | Youth Olympic Games

Switzerland

Skeleton's origins

Extreme tobogganing/sledging would not be an unfair description for skeleton.

It evolved from the somewhat leisurely activity when British soldiers constructed a track in Davos, Switzerland in 1882 – making it the oldest of the three sliding sports.

Three years later, some 20 miles away from Davos, the famed Cresta Run was carved and completed in St Moritz, and it was there where skeleton truly took off.

The natural ice track is seen as the home of skeleton racing, with a man called Mr. Cornish the first rider to adopt the head-first (prone) approach there in 1887.

The technique saw Cornish finish a lowly 14th at that year’s Grand National, but by the 1890s this style was used widely by sliders.

Skeleton’s ties with the Cresta Run meant it initially only appeared at the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948, when St. Moritz hosted the event.

It was not until 2002 in Salt Lake City when it became a permanent fixture at the Olympics.

This reintroduction came after the sport expanded in the 1980s. The inaugural men’s Skeleton World Championships were held in 1982, and four years later the annual World Cup was introduced.

The women’s event debuted at the World Cup in 1996 and the world championships in 2000.

In terms of Olympic medals, the United States lead the way with three golds, four silvers and one bronze to Great Britain's three golds, one silver and five bronze.

Canada, Russia, Switzerland, Italy and South Korea are the only other nations to have won gold.

Meanwhile, athletes at Lausanne 2020 will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Germany's Jacqueline Lolling, who won gold at the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics before becoming the senior European and world champion in 2017. A year later at Pyeongchang 2018, she took home silver.

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The fine art of skeleton

Unlike luge and bobsleigh, skeleton involves single riders only, and they must master their sled from start to finish if they want to safely navigate every twist and turn of the track.

Riders set off with a running start, aided by spiked shoes, pushing their sled as fast as possible for around 25 metres before leaping on.

IBSF Bobsleigh And Skeleton World Cup - Innsbruck BG

Once lying down, the subtlest of movements steer them down the track.

With their chin centimetres above the ice, riders steer by carefully shifting their bodyweight on the sled, applying pressure on the corners with their knees or shoulders, and tapping a toe on the ice depending on which way they want to turn.

All that while experiencing the force of 5Gs, five times the force of gravity.

All about the sled

With speed the name of the game, there are strict regulations regarding the skeleton sled.

The combined weight of the rider and sled – including all equipment – may not exceed 120kg for men and 102kg for women.

Athletes do a running start before leaping onto their sled

Should the rider be over this weight, then the sled alone cannot exceed 45kg for men and 38kg for women.

The maximum allowable weight is often reached using ballasts, but they must fixed to the sleigh and cannot be attached to the athlete’s body.

The sled for both men and women must be 80-120cm long, and 8-20cm high.

Predominantly made of steel, with the base plate made from carbon fibre, state-of-the-art racing sleds can cost more than 10,000 US dollars.

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Other equipment required

With aerodynamics playing a key role, the equipment an athlete wears is as important as the sled itself.

A racing helmet, which also covers the athlete’s chin, is worn for obvious reasons. As stated by the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton, they “must be strong enough to protect the athlete’s skull during impact, but also light enough so that it doesn’t feel heavy when they hit corners at 5G speeds”.

And while there are safety regulations in place, there is a relative freedom regarding designs, with Pyeongchang 2018 showcasing an array of spectacular helmets. Many riders - including Ghanaian Akwasi Frimpong (below) - appeared more than happy to get creative.

Designs on skeleton helmets were on display in Pyeongchang

Visors for the helmet come in a variety of colours, and an athlete will select the best one based on the lighting conditions on track.

The suit worn is both light and tight-fitting, while spiked shoes allow the athlete to push off on the ice at the start of the race to build up as much speed as possible.