Skeleton sliding back to its spiritual home for Youth Olympic Games

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

Picture by 2010 Getty Images

The action will take place on January 19 (women) and January 20 (men) away from Lausanne, on the sustainable track of St Moritz - the Swiss resort viewed as skeleton's spiritual home. 

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

Skeleton during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games
Picture by Getty Images

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. 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.