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Skeleton is a type of sledding where a person rides a one-person sled in a prone, head-first position. It differs from luge, where riders drive a sled in a supine, feet-first position. Top speeds attained in skeleton are approximately 80 mph, which are slightly slower than in luge. Skeleton is one of the oldest competitive sledding sports in the world and got its name from the use of the stripped-down sled, which originally was a bare frame - like a skeleton.

The history of skeleton can be traced back to the British of the late 19th century. In 1882, English soldiers in Switzerland constructed a toboggan track between the cities of Davos and Klosters. While toboggan tracks were common at the time, the added challenge of curves and bends in the Swiss track distinguished it from those in Canada and the United States. Not far away in the winter sports town of St. Moritz, British gentlemen enjoyed racing one another down the winding streets of the town, causing an uproar due to the danger they posed to pedestrians and tourists. In the 1887 Grand National competition in St. Moritz, the now traditional head-first position in sledding was introduced, 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 Muerzzuschlag. 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. The popularity of the sport grew in Europe and in 1923, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was established as the governing body of the sport. Soon afterward in 1926, the International Olympic Committee declared bobsleigh, or bobsled, and skeleton as Olympic sports. It wasn’t until 2002 that skeleton itself was added permanently to the Olympic program at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The skeleton shares the same tracks as bobsleigh and luge. Most races take place on man-made ice tracks, although some natural ice tracks are used, such as the one at St. Moritz. As with bobsledding and luge, the start is crucial in skeleton. The toboggans used in the 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. 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, and further specifications are included in FIBT ruling regarding sled dimensions.


 


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