Q: What is skeleton?
Skeleton is like luge, but head first. Athletes run and jump on their sled belly down, and then speed off down the track at 80 mph or more. To repeat: head first.
Invented in Switzerland in the 19th century, skeleton is one of three Olympic sliding sports (along with bobsled and luge). It made its debut at the 1928 St. Moritz Olympics, but then went on a long hiatus. The sport was only contested one other time over the next seventy-eight years (in 1948), before making a reappearance at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. It has been in every Winter Olympics since.
The United States has more skeleton medals than any other country (8 total, 3 gold). Britain and Canada aren’t too far behind, with six and four medals, respectively.
Q: What are the events? Where will they be?
Skeleton has two events, men’s and women’s. Both genders compete on the same course, which is roughly .85 miles (1,376.38 meters) long with an average slope of 9.48 percent. PyeongChang sliding events take place at the Alpensia Sliding Centre.
Both men’s and women’s skeleton competition consists of four runs over two days. The four times are combined and the fastest aggregate time determines the winner.
Q: Is skeleton safe?
While arguably the scariest Winter Olympic sport, supporters defend it as safe. USA Bobsled and Skeleton representative Kristen Gowdy says luge is actually considered to be the more dangerous, because speeds are higher and athletes have greater control of the sled, which can amplify mistakes. Needless to say, helmets are required.
Q: What are skeleton sleds made out of?
Skeleton sleds are made primarily from steel and are prohibited from having any steering or braking mechanisms. The sled must weigh less than 95 pounds for men, 73 for women.
Q: Who to watch for?
Matt Antoine, Katie Uhlaender and John Daly headline the U.S. team. All three have a chance at a medal.
Antoine won a bronze medal four years ago in Sochi. Daly was also in contention for a medal going into the final run, but the runner of his sled came out of its track during the start (known as “popping a grove”) and he slipped off course. The mistake cost him a spot on the podium.
On the women’s side, Uhlaender also missed the podium, coming in fourth by a slim .04 seconds. PyeongChang will be Uhlaender’s fourth Olympic Games, the first American to achieve the feat in skeleton.
The fourth person on the American skeleton team is Kendall Wesenberg, who became interested in skeleton while watching the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “I thought it looked cool,” Wesenberg told the Denver Post. She tried out for the national team on a dare. This is her first Olympics.
The Americans should see competition from the German women, defending Olympic women’s champion Lizzy Yarnold (Britain) and the long-dominant Latvian Martins Dukurs. Yun Sung-bin of South Korea could also be in the mix.
Q: When should I watch?
All events will air on NBC and/or NBCSN, but only the men’s events will be shown live. Here is a schedule of the finals, with television coverage in parentheses (all times Eastern). Live telecasts are in bold. Races are also available by live-streaming at NBCOlympics.com or on the NBC app. Daily TV listings can be found here.
Feb. 14: Men’s, runs 1 and 2, 8 p.m. (NBC, 8-11:30 p.m., 12:05-1:30 a.m.))
Feb. 15: Men’s, runs 3 and 4, 7:30 p.m. (NBC, 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m.)
Feb. 16: Women’s runs 1 and 2, 6:20 a.m. (NBCSN, 7:10-10:45 a.m.; NBC, 8 p.m.-midnight;)
Feb. 17: Women’s runs 3 and 4, 6:20 a.m. (NBCSN, 1:30-5:30 p.m.; NBC, 8-11 p.m.)