Better Know A Winter Olympics Sport: Skeleton; Brakes And Steering Need Not Apply

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Better Know A Winter Olympics Sport: Skeleton; Brakes And Steering Need Not Apply

What It Is: If you're looking for danger in the Winter Olympics, forget about the Alpine events and snowboarding. They're so passé. Instead, try going down an icy track while riding a sled that's not much bigger than an ironing board, head first.

That's skeleton. Here's a taste, from the slider's perspective..

This incarnation of skeleton is making its third Olympic appearance in Vancouver. An earlier version of the sport, now known as Cresta sledding, was held twice during the 1928 and 1948 Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the birthplace of all three sliding sports. Back then, riders wore skates to control, and stop, their sleds.

Compare that to the skeleton sled of today, which has NO steering or braking mechanism.

Luge replaced skeleton on the Olympic program, and the sport faded until the International Bobsled and Tobagganing Federation took it over in the 80s. It returned to the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.

What To Watch For: In the past two Olympics, the competition only featured two runs over a single day. Now, both the men's and women's competitions consist of four runs over two days, just like singles luge and bobsledding. 

The men's competition is fairly wide open, as Switzerland's Gregor Stähli, the 2007 and 2009 World Champion last and two time Olympic bronze medalist, won't be able to improve his podium standing. He's out the Games with a thigh injury. Latvia's Martins Dukurs, the reigning World Cup champion, will look to earn his country's first Winter Olympics gold. The two Germans who claimed the silver and bronze after the season-long competition, Frank Rommel and Sandro Stielicke, will be threats as well.

John Montgomery and Jeff Pain, a two-time World Champion, are the host Canadians best shot at a medal, while Eric Bertonas, the only American male to win a World Cup medal this season, and Zach Lund, who missed the Torino games because he tested positive for a banned hair-restoration drug, will look to bring some hardware home to the United States.

On the women's side, the best American hope is Noelle Pikus-Pace, another athlete who missed out on Torino, thanks to a broken leg suffered after she and several teammates were hit by a runaway bobsled in Calgary. The other American medal threat, Katie Uhlaender, has overcome quite a bit of adversity to get back to the Olympic stage. The two-time World Cup champion lost her father to cancer and suffered a severe knee injury since 2006.

The motivated Americans will have their work cut out for them, however, as Canadian Melissa Hollingsworth will be favored on home ice, especially as she captured medals in seven of this season's eight World Cup races. Three German sliders, Anja Huber, Kerstin Szymkowiak and Marion Trott, will contend, as will 2006 silver medalist Shelley Rudman from Great Britain. Plus, defending Olympic champion Maya Pedersen of Switzerland just happens to be back to attempt a repeat. 

When To Watch: Skeleton will fill the gap between the end of luge and start of bobsled at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Both events the men's and women's events will take place during the evenings of February 18 and 19. Head to the Vancouver site for specific times.

Why To Watch: This sport is simply one of the most amazing things you'll see during the 16 days of competition in Vancouver and Whistler, especially since the margin for error when riding a sled at very high speeds with no steering system and no brakes is really small. See below.

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