The History of Olympic Skeleton
Because the sport of skeleton was only permanently added to the Olympic program in 2002, many people assume that it’s a new sport, at least compared to venerable events like luge and bobsledding. But this is actually a mistaken assumption, as skeleton has a history going back at least as far as luge and bobsledding.
It’s likely that people have been sledding headfirst down snowy hills for millennia, but the sport of skeleton itself didn’t get it’s start until the late 1800s, when members of the Swiss military constructed a special toboggan track to get them between the towns of Klosters and Davos. Toboggan tracks had of course been around for a long time before that, but the great innovation of the Swiss tracks was that they had curves that were intentionally constructed to be challenging.
Meanwhile, in nearby St. Moritz, young men had long been causing an uproar by sledding head first down the town’s busy, hilly and winding streets. To make things a little less frightening for local pedestrians, a British Major by the name of Bulpetts worked with winter sports officials to construct Cresta Run, a three-quarter-of-a-mile track that is still used today with much of its original form intact.
Although feet-first ways of sledding ruled the winter sports world during these early days, there were many head-first sledding practitioners, especially in Switzerland, and this form of racing even had an official competition in the town of Muerzzuchlag. After that, the sport grew in popularity throughout Europe and soon grew into the form we know today.
The name comes from an 1892 sled design by Englishman L.P. Child, who stripped his sled down to its bare bones so that it resembled a human skeleton. Although this name stuck in English-speaking countries, the sport is still known as tobogganing in many places.
Skeleton has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee since 1926, but it was not an official part of the Olympic program. It was featured during the 1928 and 1948 Games in St. Moritz, mostly because the original skeleton track was there, but it was never in any of the other Games.
This all changed ahead of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, when it was added permanently to the Olympic program. Since then, it has grown in popularity and been introduced to a number of new venues worldwide.