Don't know anything about skeleton? No problem. Here are all the basics you need to know before the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

By Dan Gartland
December 06, 2017

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are right around the corner! That means it's time to watch sports you might not have seen in four years. To help you feel at least a little more informed—either to impress your friends or fake your way through a conversation with an actual expert—SI will be providing rookie's guides to each of the 15 sports. These will be published daily, Monday through Friday, from December 4–22.

What is skeleton?

Skeleton is not a competition where each athlete is put through an X-ray machine so they can see who has the most bones. That would be so much more boring than what skeleton actually is—men and women flying down a bobsled track at 90 mph with their face an inch off the ice. It’s basically just like luge, except instead of laying on their backs, the competitors are positioned face-down, head-first. The sledder’s lower legs dangle off the back of the sled so they have to make sure they don’t hit the ice while also staying as flat as possible to maintain peak aerodynamic flow. You can steer by shifting your weight.

This video shows a little more about what it's like to compete. 

How was the sport invented?

Skeleton traces its roots to an ice track in the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz, where British and American tourists began sliding head-first down a track called the Cresta Run before the turn of the 20th century. (You can still ride the Cresta Run—if you a member of its club, and not a woman.)

When did it come to the Olympics?

St. Moritz hosted the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948, so skeleton was included due to its history there and the Cresta Run was used as the track. It didn’t return until the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. 

Why do they call it skeleton?

I always thought the name was derived from the dangerous nature of the sport, but it actually comes from the equipment. The first sleds used in skeleton were the bones of a bobsled. 

How does the competition work?

A total of 50 people will qualify, 30 men and 20 women, though the field won’t be set until mid-January. There are only six medals awarded—gold, silver and bronze for men and women. The winner is whoever clocks the fastest time after four runs. 

Is it dangerous?

Holy crap, yes. Not only are you hurtling down the track at speeds of over 90 mph, the sled can weigh as much 90 pounds (though there are rules limiting the combined maximum weight of the sled and its rider). The last thing you want is to lose control of a heavy object with sharp metal blades and get trapped in a frozen tube with it. 

The only protection the sledders wear is a helmet, which has a chin guard in case you dip you head to low and scrape your face on the ice. 

Who is good at it?

The U.S. has won the most Olympic medals (eight), followed by Great Britain (six) and Canada (four). Switzerland, Italy, Latvia, Germany, Austria and Russia are the only other countries to medal but sledders have represented countries all the way from Argentina to Australia. 

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