The start of the 2006 winter Olympics in Torino, Italy are right around the corner. Many spectators will be flocking to this Italian city, while those that are unable to physically attend will find themselves glued to television coverage of the games. One medal event will seem relatively new to most spectators, and that is the sliding sport known as skeleton.
Skeleton made its first appearance in the Olympics in 1928. It was slated from the schedule for the next few winter Olympic games, but reappeared in 1948. Again, skeleton was slated from the Olympic program the following year. It was not until 2002 did skeleton make another appearance in the winter games. This year, for the first time in Olympic history, skeleton will appear on the winter games’ program for the second year in a row.
Skeleton has been described as basically a head first version of the luge. However, skeleton has actually been around longer than the luge and bobsledding, two other medal sliding events in the winter Olympics. The invention of the bobsled actually came from tying two skeleton sleds together. Competitors of skeleton slide down head first, face down, and hands back. Many competitors approach speeds near 80 mph.
Skeleton sliding is actually an adaptation of cresta, another sliding sport, which itself actually evolved from traditional tobogganing. The first run was built in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1884 by a group of English tourists. This original run was simply a modified toboggan run. The run was about one kilometer long with a 150 meter vertical drop.
Skeleton received its name after an Englishman designed a sled with a metal frame that resembled a rib cage, and hence, a skeleton.
The first skeleton competitors rode the sled both seated and lying on their backs. After a competitor decided to ride head first down the ice, receiving better results, did the sport change to riding head first down the slope.
Skeleton was originally only practice in St. Moritz, but it soon spread to Austria and Germany in the late 19th century. By the 1920s, however, skeleton was only being practice in St. Moritz again.
In 1928, St. Moritz hosted the Olympic games and this is the year skeleton made its Olympic debut. Jennison Heaton of the U.S. captured the gold medal. However, skeleton was dropped from the program the following year, but once the Olympics returned to St. Moritz in 1948, so did skeleton as an official event. Nino Bibbia of Italy captured the gold during the 1948 winter games. Once again, the event was dropped.
Interest in skeleton began to ascend during the 1960s and 1970s as newer tracks were being built and the sleds were modified.
The first world championship in skeleton was held in 1987 with only seven nations participating. The European competitors dominated the sport until the mid 1990s when the number of participating countries reached 20.
In 2002, skeleton reappeared in the winter program at the Salt Lake City games. Olympic spectators were thrilled with this added sliding sport, with its high speeds and daring curves. Jim Shea of the U.S. went home with the gold medal in 2002 for the men, while Tristan Gale and Lea Ann Parsely of the U.S. brought home the gold and silver medals respectively.
During this year’s winter games, the women’s skeleton competition will take place Thursday February 16 and the men’s the following day. Both men’s and women’s singles competitors each take two runs and the winner is determined by the total time between the two runs.
Staehli and Kristan Bromley of Great Britain are the top contenders for the men’s competition. Maya Pedersen of Switzerland and Diana Sartor of Germany are at the forefront of the women’s competition.
For the U.S., they have the challenge of improving on a three-medal appearance in the 2002 games. Zach Lund, the 2002 and 004 America’s Cup Champion, Eric Bernotas, a three-time Verizon national champion, and Kevin Ellis will be the three competitors for the U.S. men’s team. Each of them will be making their Olympic debuts and are ranked second, fifth, and seventh respectively. Chris Soule has been named as the alternate and his dream of competing in the Olympics may come true this year because he may have to replace Lund, who may be suspended after allegedly testing positive for a banned substance at a World Cup race.
Katie Uhlaender was the only female named to the U.S. Olympic team, and she, too, will be making her Olympic debut. Noelle Pikus-Pace, the 2005 World Cup Champion, was injured with a broken leg earlier this season and was nominated as a replacement in the games.
Perhaps the larger issue for the U.S. team is with the status of head coach, Tim Nardiello, who has been accused of sexual harassment. These allegation are currently under investigation. Orvie Garrett, the current team driving coach, may take over as head coach for the 2006 Olympic games.