Skeleton – Why such a name?

23 June 2009

I spent a bit of time the other day pondering why the name ‘Skeleton’ was chosen to represent a sport that has very little to do with the framework of a human body – unless of course the creators were considering the danger involved in the sport and imagined what would potentially happen to the emaciated body, aka ‘the skeleton’, if things went awry… highly unlikely though.  Between WIkipedia and the FIBT website (The Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Toboganning), I think I found my answer.

Firstly, for anyone who gets crippling butterflies before going down a waterslide or even driving down a steep hill (such as myself), this sport is not for you.  In fact, I got butterflies looking at some of the images online.

The sport of Skeleton is where athletes lie on what looks like the rolling contraption the mechanic used to look under my car the other day, and race down the same track used for bobsleigh and luge at speeds of 130km/h (80mph)!  Oh, and there aren’t any breaks or steering mechanisms.  The steering is managed by slight shifts the athletes make while on the sled and/or by dragging their feet.

Now back to the name.  Although it isn’t fully known where the name originated from; there are two solid theories.

Back in the 19th century Norwegian fisherman would use sleds similar to our Canadian Toboggans as transportation; their name for them was ‘Ake’.  Similar to the ‘Ake’ was the ‘Kjaelke’ which was used for having fun on the ice (a current day sled).  The first theory behind the name of the ‘Skeleton,’ is that the Anglicization of the Norwegian word ‘Kjaelke’ was incorrect and pronounced ‘Skele’, thus leading people to call it ‘Skele-ton’.

The second theory derives from 1892 when an Englishman by the name of Mr. Child surprised his sporting friends with a fully metal sled he had made.  This metal sled was the prototype for what is now the common day ’skeleton sled’.  Apparently it looked a bit like a ’skeleton’ and was thusly named.

It isn’t certain which theory is correct, or if either are, for that matter.  That said, it’s a very interesting sport that joined the Olympics early on, but took a pretty extensive hiatus until quite recently.

In 1926 the International Olympic Committee declared Bobsleigh and Skeleton as Olympic sports, however, it wasn’t until 2002, that Skeleton itself was added permanently to the Olympic program with the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, after a 54 year absence from the Games.

Since its return, the popularity has increased significantly and even countries that don’t have tracks (because of climate, terrain, or monetary limitations) participate in the sport.  Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, South Africa, Argentina, Iraq, Isreal, Mexico, Brazil and even the Virgin Islands have become involved with the sport in recent years.  Unfortunately the FIBT has to narrow the field greatly and only a few dozen countries are able to compete in the Olympic Games.

An interesting sport with an interesting name…

Leave a Reply