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Skeleton originated as a spin-off from the popular British sport of Cresta Sledding in St. Moritzmarker, Switzerland. While Skeleton "sliders" use similar equipment to Cresta "riders", the two sports are different and should not be confused (See below).

Skeleton Cresta Sledding
Shares track with bobsleighers and lugers Run on cresta sledding tracks only
No steering/braking mechanisms allowed Skates on feet help steer/brake the sled


The sport of skeleton can be traced back to the British of the late 19th century. English soldiers in Switzerlandmarker constructed a toboggan track between the cities of Davos and Klosters in 1882. While toboggan tracks certainly 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.

Approximately 30 km away in the winter sports town of St. Moritz, British gentlemen had long enjoyed racing one another down the busy, winding streets of the town, causing an uproar among citizens as to the danger posed to pedestrians and visiting tourists. In 1884, Major Bulpetts, 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 10 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 Olympic Winter Games.

In the 1887 Grand National competition in St. Moritz, Mr. Cornish introduced the now traditional head-first position, a trend that was in full force by the 1890 Grand National. Until 1905, skeleton was practiced mainly in Switzerland; however, in 1905, Styria held its first skeleton competition in Muerzzuschlagmarker. 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 Viennese Semmering Mountain.

As the popularity of the sport grew in Europe, 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 tobboganing 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 (1926), the International Olympic Committee declared bobsleigh and skeleton as Olympic sports and adopted the rules of the St. Mortiz run as the officially recognized Olympic rules. It was not until 2002, however, that skeleton itself was added permanently to the Olympic program with the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Popularity in the sport has grown since the 2002 Winter Olympics and now includes participation by smaller 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 Olympic Games.

For a summary of these and other important dates in the history of skeleton, see the timeline below.


The accessibility of skeleton to amateurs may have been the catalyst for its upswing in popularity. Most notably, Nino Bibbia, a modest fruit and vegetable merchant from St. Moritz, 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. Modern day Nino Bibbias such as Kevin Ellis, an accountant from Dallas, Texas, who have secured positions on their national Olympic teams continue to propagate the sport forward into the spotlight.

Skeleton is a fast-moving sliding sport during which athletes experience forces up to, but not exceeding, 5Gs, a stipulation enforced by the FIBT. Given the speeds attained by sliders (up to 130 km/h (80 mph)), they are not allowed any steering or braking mechanisms. Rather, steering is managed by slight shifts of the athlete on the sled and by dragging the feet.

The sport is also promoted by skeleton officials as a gateway sport to, “train young, aspiring athletes…for their future career in bobsleigh.”

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. 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.

Olympic rules

  • Skeleton must use the same track as bobsleigh and luge, at least 1200 m (1312 yards) long
  • A run begins with a running "push" phase (typically 25 to 40 metres)
  • After pushing, the athlete dives onto the sled and descends the track
  • Athletes must lie prone, facing downhill, with arms at their sides
  • Only the force produced by the athlete and the force of gravity are permitted to propel the skeleton
  • The skeleton must be steered by movements of the athlete's body


Skeleton shares the same tracks as the sports of bobsleigh and luge. Most races take place on man-made ice surfaces, though some natural ice tracks, such as St. Moritz, are still used. The tracks run from 1200 – 1650 m, 1200 m of which are downhill. The final 100 – 150 m may contain uphill stretches that are no greater than 12% gradient and may contain bends. Most tracks contain a combination of 15 bends, though the famous Cresta Run follows its original course and contains only 10.

The starting area is composed of a 15 m push-off stretch followed by a straight 60 m stretch during which the athlete typically reach speeds up to 35 km/h. The British Bob Skeleton Association defines the initial 20-30 m of track as a sprint area before the slider dives onto his sled. Push-off grips are also installed along the sides of the track to assist athletes in obtaining max starting speeds.

The “First Stretch” of the track is defined as the first 2/3 of the track. It traditionally contains the most demanding elements of the track with regard to the driving technique required of the athlete. The route following the first 250 m of track is designed to allow the athlete to reach maximum speed – anywhere from 80 – 100 km/h. The track following time-keeping (the finish line) remains straight, allowing athletes to safely slow their sleds.


“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.

Today, the FIBT restricts 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.

Further specifications are included in FIBT ruling regarding sled dimensions:

Combined weight (athlete + sled) Sled
Men 115 kg 43 kg
Women 92 kg 35 kg

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

  • Dimensions
    • Length
    • : 800-1200 mm
    • Height
    • : 80-200 mm
    • Distance Between Runners
    • : 340-380 mm

Equipment worn by athletes

  • alpine racing helmet with chinguard, or a skeleton specific helmet
  • skin-tight racing speedsuit
  • spiked shoes, similar to track spikes
  • goggles or face shields
  • optional elbow and shoulder pads under their suits

Organization Link Acronym Description
Alberta Skeleton Association [24190] Located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada 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 Konigseemarker, Tirolmarker , and Czechoslovakiamarker.
British Bob Skeleton Association [24191] The Official British Bob Skeleton organization whose members include both athletes and fans alike. Their website includes volumes of information regarding the sport, history, events, photographs, among other news and updates on athletes and the sport.
Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing [24192] FIBT Established in 1923, the FIBT is the official governing body for the sport.
St. Moritz Tobogganing Club A private club founded in 1887 by Major Bulpetts of St. Moritz. Membership is selective from applicants on their “Supplementary List”. St. Moritz is the birthplace of the sport.

Year Event
1882 English soldiers in Switzerland construct first challenge sledding course
1884 Britons raced recreationally from St. Moritz to Celerina in Switzerland
1887 Cresta Run constructed
Head-first riding position introduced at Switzerland’s Grand National competition
1892 L.P. Child introduces the “America”
1902 Sliding seat added to new sled design, later dropped
1905 Styria holds first skeleton competition in Muerzzuschlag
1906 Austrian Championship
1923 The Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) is established
1926 International Olympic Committeemarker officially declares skeleton as an Olympic sport
1928 Jennison Heaton wins first Olympic gold in Skeleton
1948 Nino Bibbia wins Olympic gold in skeleton’s 2nd winter games appearance
1969 1st artificially refrigerated track built in West Germany
Bavarian Skeleton Club established in Munichmarker
1974 Officially recognized by Deutsche Bob und Schlittensport Verband (German Bobsleigh and Luge Organisation)
1986 FIBT begins funding skeleton
1989 Skeleton is included officially in the FIBT World Championships
1998 Skeleton World Championship aired live on Eurosport for the first time
1999 Skeleton included in Olympic Games program, scheduled to debut in 2002 Winter Games
2000 Women's skeleton debuts at the FIBT World Championships
2002 First permanent Olympic skeleton competition held in Salt Lake City, Utah

See also


External links

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