Martins Dukurs of Latvia (pictured) is considered the best slider in the world today.
It has a creepy name. It looks a lot like the luge.
It's easy to write off the skeleton as an ancillary event at the Winter Olympic Games. But dig a little deeper, and you might find the event is well worth bookmarking as part of your Sochi viewing diet.
And yet, as it is, skeleton is a fairly new and unfamiliar event, particularly to American viewers. It's understandable that it isn't top of mind for many casual Olympics fans. It's probably not realistic to expect skeleton to knock figure skating or hockey off the podium anytime soon, but overlooking it might mean selling your experience short, especially if you're someone who likes a little action in your ice sports.
To help you get acquainted with the skeleton, here's a history of the sport as well as its full schedule in Sochi and full preview and medal prediction for both the men's and women's side.
Men's Russian slider Alexander Tretiakov.
The skeleton is indeed a close cousin of the luge. The main difference is that skeleton competitors, called sliders, ride headfirst while lying on their stomachs, instead of feet-first and on their backs like lugers.
Though going into anything headfirst adds extra danger, the luge is actually the more dangerous of the two sports, as it involves a narrower sled and substantially higher speeds. Sliders typically top out at a very healthy 75 miles per hour; the average luger can exceed 95 miles per hour.
And now, the basic parameters, courtesy of our friends at NBC Sports.
- Separate men's and women's events
- One person per sled
- Sleds have no braking or steering mechanism, meaning sliders steer through shifts in body weight
- No country may qualify more than three sliders per event
- Each slider completes four runs over two days (two on each day)
- Winner has lowest aggregated time
- Sliders are disqualified if they crash and do not cross the finish line
The skeleton began as most sports began: with bored British gentlemen seeking diversion in the sleepy streets of the resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland.
It was 1882. These gentleman achieved their amusement by sledding the hills of those very same avenues. So it's hyper-competitive, hyper-dangerous sledding, basically.
When the Winter Olympic Games came to St. Moritz in 1928, the rest was a no-brainer. The sport didn't resurface as an Olympic pursuit until the next St. Moritz games 20 years later. Then it took a long vacation until 2002. It's now a regular full-time fixture on the Olympic roster.
One might assume, then, that the British, the Swiss or another cold-weather European nation is the industry standard when it comes to the skeleton. But think again, hombre or muchacha. It's the good old U.S. of A.
That's right: Coming into Sochi, the Americans have six skeleton medals (three gold and three silver) to lead the pack, while Great Britain comes in second with five.
The Americans also have the distinction of being the first nation to win the skeleton since it returned for good in 2002, when Jimmy Shea pulled the upset and took the men's gold.
And finally, one more piece of skeleton trivia: Canadian Duff Gibson (pictured) holds the record for the oldest person to win an individual Winter Olympics gold medal; the 39-year-old won the men's skeleton in 2006. Dazzle the barroom with that nugget of knowledge, courtesy of your boy Scott.
U.S. slider Katie Uhlaender.
All scheduled times listed are Sochi time.
- Women's Heat 1: Feb. 13, 11:30 a.m.
- Women's Heat 2: Feb. 13, 12:40 p.m.
- Men's Heat 1: Feb. 14, 4:30 p.m.
- Men's Heat 2: Feb. 14, 6:05 p.m.
- Women's Heat 3: Feb. 14, 7:40 p.m.
Martins (left) and Tomass Dukurs
When it comes to the skeleton event here in 2014, dominance is spelled with six letters: Dukurs.
As in Latvian sibling sledmasters Martins and Tomass Dukurs.
Martins is the best there is at the moment, having won the sport's World Cup in each of the past five, count 'em, five, years. So think, I don't know, a better version of Jimmie Johnson. He also took the silver medal at the 2010 games. Older brother Tomass is as close to Martins as any. He finished second in last year's World Cup standings and has some solid (if not mind-blowing) placements in world and European championships, as well as a 2010 Olympics appearance.
Also on the radar on the men's side is Russian Alexander Tretiakov and a strong German contingent of Alexander Kroeckel and Frank Rommel. There are some Americans in the mix, as well, and we'll get to them.
While the Dukurs brothers have the male bracket on lock, the women's event does not have a clear-cut favorite. Brit Lizzy Yarnold is looking strong coming into Sochi, having been crowned world champion just a handful of days ago. But American Noelle Pikus-Pace is hard on her heels, having won the same number of world cup races as Yarnold, including the one held in Sochi.
Brit Shelley Rudman and American Katie Uhlaender round out what are probably the two best contingents. Austrian Janine Flock is also in the mix.
American slider Matt Antoine
Will the Dukurs brothers shut down the nation of Latvia by finishing one-two? It's entirely possible. While Martins is all but guaranteed to take the gold, Tomass is more of an open question. The Russian, Tretiakov, or one of the Germans could break in.
But so could one of the Americans.
Can they get on the podium and keep the U.S. hot streak alive? If they can, it will likely be Matt Antoine who gets it done. Antoine finished third behind the Dukurs in a World Cup race held in January, and he could meet that position again in Sochi.
British slider Lizzy Yarnold
Yarnold and Pikus-Pace are fashioning a nice little rivalry coming into Sochi, having traded World Cup victories throughout the year and having notched the same number of event wins (seven).
Yarnold is the youngster at age 25. Pikus-Pace, 31, is in a decidedly different position. The Utah native retired after the 2010 Games (where she finished fourth) but unretired in 2012 to go for a spot in 2014.
North America has a solid collective group on the women's side thanks to the Canadian contingent, which includes Sarah Reid, who took the bronze medal in the 2013 World Championships.
American slider Noelle Pikus-Pace.
The women might hold Team USA's brightest medal prospects in the skeleton.
Antoine could find his way to the podium, though it will be a tall order with the Dukurs and members of the Russian and German teams arguably ahead of him. John Daly and Kyle Tress are long shots to earn a medal.
Men's Skeleton Medal Predictions
- Gold: Martins Dukurs, Lativa
- Silver: Tomass Dukurs, Latvia
- Bronze: Matt Antoine, United States
Women's Skeleton Medal Predictions
- Gold: Lizzy Yarnold, Great Britain
- Silver: Noelle Pikus-Pace, United States
- Bronze: Shelley Rudman, Great Britain