What Is Skeleton in the Olympics? The Only Sport Where You Have to Win on Your Tummy

NJ's Kelly Curtis will make her Olympic debut in the sport in Beijing but Katie Uhlaendar is the favorite in the women's event

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Skeleton is one of 15 sports in the 2022 Winter Olympics. But what exactly is it? Why does it look so bizarre and how do you win? Here's an explainer.

Skeleton falls under the "ice sports" category, one of three categories at the Beijing Olympics. It's the only sport where you have to run the entire race lying on your stomach. Athletes can leave their sleds to push or move them but have to pass the finish line on the sled, in that prone position, in order for the run to count.

There are only two events -- men's and women's races -- and both will take place at Beijing's iconic Yanqing National Sliding Centre.

Both Olympic skeleton events consist of four runs timed electronically to the 1/100th of a second. In Salt Lake and Torino, only two runs were contested.

The four runs will be contested on consecutive days (two runs each day, starting Thursday, Feb. 10). The final standings are determined by the total time over the four runs. Whoever has the lowest aggregate time wins.

If athletes complete the competition in a tie, they are awarded the same place.

Skeleton returned to the Olympics after a 54-year hiatus in 2002. The sport was previously contested in both 1928 and 1948, the two times the Winter Games were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the accepted birthplace of the sport. The sport was founded there in the late 1890s and began as the sport of "cresta."

What's With the Sled?

The skeleton sled is made up of runners, a chassis, an aerodynamic glass-fiber cowling that covers that chassis, and the saddle, which holds the torso of the body in location on the top of that chassis, and bumpers, which serve as the slider’s protection.

Helmets are required and competitors' shoes can have spikes -- but there are limited to the size. As is the case with bobsled and luge, sled runners are the most important component of the event, for the sheer reason they're the only part of the sled in contact with the ice.

The Start -- and Start Order

The start is authorized by an audio and visual signal, and from that point, the athlete has 30 seconds to start the run. The competitor may accelerate the sled by pushing it; any other help during the starting procedure is prohibited.

The 10 best-ranked athletes choose start numbers 6 to 15 in the men’s event and 4 to 13 in the women’s event. For men, the first five starting numbers are drawn from the last seven ranked athletes in the field.

For women, the first three starting numbers are drawn from the last five ranked athletes in the field. The rest start in ranked order. The first heat begins with the athlete with the lowest number and continues in order until all athletes have gone.

The second heat’s starting order is based off results in the first heat. It begins from 20th-ranked competitor to the first, and then continues with the 21st to the last.

The third heat is based off the combined rankings from the first two heats. It begins with the top-ranked competitor and runs until the last-ranked competitor. Those ranked 21st and lower after the third heat are ineligible for the next heat.

The fourth and final heat starts with the 20th-ranked competitor and go until the first-ranked competitor has finished.

Who Should You Root for?

Katie Uhlaendar” may not be a household name. But the 37-year-old skeleton veteran has been given the green light to slide through her fifth Games at the 2022 Winter Olympics -- joining a very exclusive club of Winter Olympians. 

By competing, Uhlaendar earns a number of superlatives. For one, she ties the record for the U.S. woman with most Olympic appearances. She's also the only U.S. woman in any sliding sport to appear at five Games. 

Kelly Curtis, who hails from Princeton, New Jersey, will also compete for Team USA in her Olympic debut, as will Andrew Blaser.

Curtis, 32, scraped into the second women's quota spot with a sixth-place finish at Friday's race in St. Mortiz. Just 24 points on the IBSF rankings earned her a ticket to the world's biggest sporting competition. Curtis is a member of the U.S. Air Force who specializes in cybersecurity, and comes from a military family. 

The sole U.S. men's skeleton slider headed into the Games, 32-year-old Blaser began as a pole vaulter at the University of Idaho. He later found skeleton through an interest in bobsled.

Blaser ranked world No. 28 at the time of selection, ahead of three-time Olympian John Daly. He is one of the record number of openly gay athletes competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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