As you’re driving down the highway, imagine opening your car door and putting your chin just one inch from the pavement as you speed along at 80 mph. What if you have no brakes? No seat belt? Now let’s take away the sturdy frame of the car so that you’re lying on your stomach on something that looks oddly similar to a cafeteria tray.
Skeleton sleds don’t have an engine, brakes or a seat belt. Athletes must power the 75-100 lb. sled off the starting block by sprinting in a bent over position, which requires strength, power and speed. Athletes negotiate the track through subtle shifts in body weight that apply pressure to the shoulder steer bars and knee bars. Skeleton requires aggression at the start, but as soon as the athlete loads onto the sled they must immediately relax to guide the sled to the finish with finesse.
Women and men compete in the sport of skeleton from the same starting point on the track. The only difference between the two disciplines is the weight of the sled.
The sport was first discovered in 1882 by English soldiers who designed and built a curved toboggan track in Switzerland, which they would slide down on a metal sled. This new way of sledding intrigued many people, thus eventually becoming a professional and Olympic sport in 1926. Skeleton is divided into two divisions: men’s and women’s.
The advancement in modern technology and materials the sleds have progressed since the 1800’s, where a sled today is made from fiberglass and steel, rather than just steel. The dimensions of the sled are sled 35 kilograms (77 lbs) in weight, 79 to 119 centimeters (31 to 47 inches) in length, and 46 centimeters (18 inches) wide. Due to the new materials and dimensions athletes can gain up 80 miles (129 km) per hour in speed when sledding.
Bobsled is similar to racing cars, only it’s on ice and there’s only one sled on course at a time. There are three disciplines in bobsled: men’s two-man bobsled, women’s bobsled and men’s four-man bobsled.
Women's and two-man sleds include a pilot and a brakeman. For the four-man there are four athletes: a driver who steers the bobsled down the track, two crewmen who help push the sled at the beginning of the race, and a brakeman who pulls the brakes and stops the sled at the end of the race. The brakeman and push athletes act as the engine at the start, and have the important job of giving the sled velocity from the top. These athletes must then gracefully load into the sled and ride as relaxed as possible in a bent position to keep the sled in balance and aerodynamic.
The pilot holds onto D-rings that pull ropes connected to the runners to steer the sled down the track. If the pilot pulls on the right D-ring, the sled will steer right and vice versa.
Bobsled athletes come from diverse athletic backgrounds such as football, track and field, soccer and softball and they must be strong, powerful and fast in order to propel the heavy sled off the starting block.
Each division requires a different weight for the sled. Two-man sleds weigh a minimum of 384 lbs for men and 284 lbs for women, while a four-man sled is at minimum 462 lbs. A four-man sled with its crew weighs up to 1,389 lbs! The sleds are also made from metal and fiberglass. The dimensions of the bobsled are for the two-man and two-woman: 8.85 feet (2.70 meters) long and 26 inches (67 cm) tall, and the four-man: 12.22 feet (3.80 meters) long and 26 inches (67 cm) tall.