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Skeleton 101: Origins and Olympic history

John Heaton
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Skeleton 101: Origins and Olympic history

From the sport’s Olympic debut in 1924 to the 2014 Sochi Games

Jump to a section: 1924 | 1948 | 2002 | 2006 | 2010 | 2014


Skeleton was invented in Switzerland in the late 19th century. It is considered the world’s first sliding sport. According to legend, riders rode in a sitting position until a competitor clocked an unusually fast time racing head-first on the Cresta Run in the Swiss town of St. Moritz in 1887. 

There are two leading theories about the origin of the sport’s name. Some believe it is because early sleds resembled a skeleton. Others speculate that name "Skele" derives from an incorrect Anglicization of the Norwegian word "Kjaelke," which translates to “ice sled.”

1924 St. Moritz

The sport made its Olympic debut with just a men’s event. American Jennison Heaton won the sport’s inaugural gold medal, followed by his brother John. 

1948 St. Moritz

Luge made its second appearance at the Olympics at St. Moritz, which is considered the birthplace of the sport. American John Heaton earned the silver medal 24 years after claiming his first silver medal.

2002 Salt Lake City

The sport returned to the Olympics after a 54-year hiatus with a men’s event and the debut of the women’s event. Jim Shea Jr. and Tristan Gale swept the gold medals for the United States, the host nation. 

2006 Torino

39-year-old Duff Gibson of Canada became the oldest individual gold medalist in Winer Olympics history. 

2010 Vancouver

The competition expanded to four runs over two days, from two runs on one day. Racing on home ice, Canada’s Jon Montgomery won the men’s gold medal, while Great Britain’s Amy Williams claimed the women’s title. 

2014 Sochi

Alexander Tretiyakov , the “Russian Rocket,” finished first racing on home ice. But in 2017, he was stripped of his medal for doping. 

Lizzy Yarnold was the women’s champion. She continued Great Britain’s streak of a women’s skeleton medal at every Olympics since the event was introduced in 2002. 

Noelle Pikus-Pace (silver) and Matt Antoine (bronze) earned the first skeleton medals for Team USA since 2002. John Daly was in position to challenge Antoine for the bronze medal, but his sled popped out of the start groove on his fourth and final run, sending him into a skid.



Everything you need to know about skeleton at the 2018 Olympics

Basics | Rules | Origins and Olympic history | Glossary | Equipment | Venue | Qualification


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