What Is Skeleton at the Olympics? Everything You Need to Know About the Heart-Pounding Sport

Among the many sports played at the Winter Olympics is skeleton, a lesser-known but equally exciting show of athletics. What is skeleton? Here's the scoop.


Feb. 6 2022, Published 4:58 p.m. ET

Skeleton sport
Source: NBC

Among the many sports played at the Winter Olympics, few include as much speed and danger as the skeleton. As one of three sliding sports at the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, it is the only sport where an individual has to lay on their stomach to compete. While the pictures of athletes performing skeleton seem precarious and terrifying, there's a lot more to the sport than it seems.

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What is skeleton, how do you win, and when was the sport created? Here's everything you need to know.

Skeleton sport
Source: Getty Images
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Skeleton is a sport created in 1892.

Per the Olympic's official website, skeleton was created as a response to sleighing, a popular sport and pastime in the late 1880s. When the first toboggan run was built in 1882, the famed Cresta Run - a natural ice skeleton racing toboggan track - was built in St. Moritz, Switzerland, just two years later.

1887 marked the year that the first competitors to careen down the track headfirst. By 1892, a new kind of sled had been invented to increase speed, and the structure was created out of steel for a look that was "skeleton-like." As a result, the sport in which an individual hurdles down a toboggan track is now called "skeleton."

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Skeleton sport.
Source: Getty Images

Men's skeleton became a sport at the 1928 Winter Olympics and again in the 1948 Winter Olympics, both in St. Moritz where the sport was invented. In 2002, skeleton was re-introduced as a men's and women's event and has been a part of the Olympic program ever since!

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Currently, the country with the most medals in skeleton is Great Britian with nine, but the United States follows closely with eight. Elizabeth Yarnold is currently the most successful athlete in Olympic skeleton history, with two gold medals.

What gear is necessary for participating in skeleton?

Naturally, the first and most vital object for skeleton is the sled. NBC Chicago explains the sled is made of "heavy steel and fiberglass with two steel runners on the bottom." There are handles on either side for the athletes to hold onto and to push in the beginning. There are also bumpers on the sides, front, and rear of the sled to protect athletes from the walls and the course.

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Source: Twitter

Skeleton competitors wear smooth gloves to protect their hands, shoes with spikes on the bottom to help push off the ice at the beginning and a fiberglass helmet to protect their faces. The race suits athletes wear are also important, and typically the suits are made of a durable synthetic fabric that is also streamlined for better aerodynamics. Sometimes, the racer's uniform will include a hood to go over their helmet.

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How do you win skeleton?

In each skeleton event, athletes compete on the same track, with each rider getting to go four times over two days. Those four rides are timed down to the hundredth of a second and the times added together. Ultimately, the rider with the fastest total time is the winner.

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