Skeleton is a fast winter sliding sport in which an individual person rides a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, during which athletes experience forces up to 5g. It originated in St. Moritz, Switzerland as a spin-off from the popular British sport of Cresta Sledding. While skeleton "sliders" use equipment similar to that of cresta "riders", the two sports are different: while skeleton is run on the same track used by bobsleds and luge, cresta is run on cresta-specific sledding tracks only. Neither the skeleton sled or Cresta toboggan have a steering or braking mechanism although the cresta riders use rakes on their boots in addition to shifting body weight to help steer and brake.
The sport of skeleton can be traced to 1882, when soldiers in Switzerland constructed a toboggan track between the towns of Davos and Klosters. While toboggan tracks were not uncommon at the time, the added challenge of curves and bends in the Swiss track distinguished it from those of Canada and the United States.
Approximately 30 km away in the winter sports town of St. Moritz, British gentlemen had long enjoyed racing one another down the busy, winding streets of the town, causing an uproar among citizens because of the danger to pedestrians and visiting tourists. In 1884, Major William Bulpett, with the backing of winter sports pioneer and Kulm hotel owner Caspar Badrutt, constructed Cresta Run, the first sledding track of its kind in St. Moritz. The track ran three-quarters of a mile from St. Moritz to Celerina and contained 10 turns still used today. When the Winter Olympic Games were held at St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948, the Cresta Run was included in the program, marking the only two times skeleton was included as an Olympic event before its permanent addition in 2002 to the Winter Games.
In the 1887 Grand National competition in St. Moritz, a Mr. Cornish introduced the now traditional head-first position, a trend that was in full force by the 1890 Grand National. Until 1905, skeleton was practiced mainly in Switzerland; however, in 1905, Styria held its first skeleton competition in Muerzzuschlag. This opened the door to other national skeleton competitions including the Austrian championship held the following year. In 1908 and 1910, skeleton competitions were held in the Semmering.
As the popularity of the sport grew in Europe, skeleton evolved into the sport recognized today. In 1892, the sled was transformed by L. P. Child, an Englishman. The newly designed bare-bones sled resembled a human skeleton, and the sport adopted its modern name of skeleton, though it is still recognized as tobogganing in many countries. In 1923, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was established as the governing body of the sport. Soon afterward, in 1926, the International Olympic Committee declared bobsleigh and skeleton as Olympic sports and adopted the rules of the St. Moritz run as the officially recognized Olympic rules. It was not until 2002, however, that skeleton itself was added permanently to the Olympic program with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Popularity in the sport has grown since the 2002 Winter Olympics and now includes participation by some countries that do not have or cannot have a track because of climate, terrain or monetary limitations. Athletes from such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, South Africa, Argentina, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Brazil and even the Virgin Islands have become involved with the sport in recent years. However, the FIBT narrows the field greatly and only a few dozen countries compete in the Olympic Games.