To the xtreme
Skeleton is one of the most extreme sports at the Olympic Winter Games: thundering head-first down an ice track on a light sled at speeds averaging 120kph requires an iron will and nerves to match.
The event has not been without controversy over the years. It was twice an Olympic sport in St Moritz (the 1928 and 1948 Games), but was dropped from the programme after the second appearance as it was considered too dangerous. The discipline’s fans fought back, however, and at Salt Lake City 2002 it was fully re-introduced to the programme.
Like bobsleigh and luge, skeleton requires a very specific venue, and until recently there were only 16 tracks on the planet upon which skeleton could be practised. That changed in 2016 when the 17th was opened at the Olympic Sliding Centre in PyeongChang, constructed to the highest of standards, costing around USD 110 million, and able to accommodate 7,000 fans. The track is 2,018m long – a nod to the year of the Olympics – and sliders are timed over 1,376m.
The race begins with a running start when the gate opens (luge athletes, who lie on their backs, sit and push off). Athletes steer the sled by using torque from their shoulders, head and knees. While sliding, the pressure experienced can be four times that of gravity.
Athletes complete four runs at the Olympic Winter Games, with rankings decided by aggregate times. The PyeongChang 2018 skeleton event begins on 15 February with runs one and two of the men’s competition; the next day the medals will be settled with heats three and four. The women complete their first two runs on 16 February, with the third and fourth runs drawing the event to a close the following day.
Skeleton got its unusual name thanks to the bony nature of the toboggan that is used. Its frames must be made of steel and cannot include steering or braking aids, while the base plate can be made of plastic. The combined weight of athlete and toboggan must not exceed 115kg for men or 92kg for women.
The United States (eight medals, three gold) and Great Britain (six medals, two gold) have dominated the event since its reintroduction, but they may not this time around: Latvian Martins Dukurs has been the star of the men’s programme over recent years, while Germany’s Jacqueline Lolling and Tina Hermann will be strong in the women’s discipline. Look out, too, for some South Korean sliders to make an impact.
— Olympics (@Olympics) August 31, 2017