The "toboggans" used in Alpine countries at the end of the 19th Century were inspired by Canadian/lndian sleds used for transport. The Norwegian sled, the "Ake", used by fishermen - and the similar "Kjaelke", used for amusement on the ice - are also forerunners of the sleds used in today’s winter sports.
In 1882, when skiing was still unknown in central Europe, English soldiers constructed a toboggan track leading from Davos to Klosters in Switzerland. The course was similar in design to the very popular Canadian tracks, but they were no more than a straight slide down. In order to make it more challenging, curves were inserted in the Davos track. It was used for descents on toboggans, which, at that time, were already divided into three categories according to whether they were of Canadian, American or Swiss origin.
In 1892, an Englishman, Mr. Child, surprised his sports friends with a new sled made mostly from metal. Some speculate that since the sled looked like a skeleton, it was thusly called. Others claim that the name "Skele" derives from an incorrect Anglicization of the Norwegian word "Kjaelke". Both explanations may be correct but what is certain is that, from that time on, the sport known both as tobogganing and skeleton has been exciting and intriguing by any name.
In 1905, skeleton was practiced for the first time outside Switzerland, on the occasion of a bobsleigh competition at Muerzzuschlag in Styria.
One year later, in 1906, the first Austrian championships were held there. In 1908 and 1910, competitions were also carried out on the Semmering Mountain near Vienna.
In 1923, the FIBT was formally constituted. According to the minutes of the FIBT Paris Congress in 1926, the International Olympic Committee declared bobsleigh and skeleton Olympic sports. This Congress decided to accept the skeleton rules of St. Moritz, Switzerland, as valid for all competitions.
In 1928, at St. Moritz, the American Jennison Heaton won the first Olympic gold medal in skeleton. His younger brother, John, was runner-up.
In 1948 - 20 years later - the fifth Olympic Winter Games were again held in this fashionable winter sports resort in the Engadine. Thirteen athletes from five countries took part. Italian Nino Bibbia, who lived in St. Moritz, won the title after six runs, and John Heaton won his second Olympic silver medal. In later years, Bibbia achieved victories in 200 more skeleton competitions.
The opening of the first artificially refrigerated bobsleigh and luge track in 1969, at Königssee/Berchtesgaden in Germany, offered athletes the first opportunity to plan and carry out practice and competition regardless of weather conditions.
In 1970, a new sled was created from the traditional skeleton used on the Cresta in St. Moritz. The new "bobsleigh skeleton" was specifically designed for use on bobsleigh runs. As the sport grew in popularity, new rules and regulations evolved through the FIBT to assure uniformity and fairness.
Since 1986, International Skeleton Schools have been organized on various tracks. The newly founded FIBT Skeleton Commission introduced Solidarity Programs to facilitate new members in skeleton activities. The FIBT began special training programs to encourage national federations to improve their athletes’ training.
With the participation of 12 countries in the 1987 European Championships, the FIBT Executive Committee met the minimum criteria for re-introducing the World Championships. In addition, new tracks in Calgary, Albertville and Lillehammer offered further opportunities for practicing skeleton. Many bobsleigh nations now realized the advantage of the argument always propagated by the skeleton officials - to train young, aspiring athletes via skeleton for their future career in bobsleigh.
In 1992, 20 countries took part in the World Cup series. A year later, the number increased to 23. In 1994, FIBT reached its target of 25 countries, fulfilling the demand of its FIBT Executive Committee. At present, skeleton is practiced on a competitive level by some 30 countries from six continents.
FIBT has funded skeleton since 1986. Today, unfortunately, non-Olympic sports stand little chance of obtaining official financial support. The interest of the media - especially television - focuses on Olympic sports. Without television, it is impossible to obtain sponsors; without sponsors, it is impossible to obtain funding.
Recognizing this fact, the FIBT funded television coverage of skeleton events, which was well received. In 1998, a World Championship event was shown live on Eurosport for the first time. More events were aired in 1999.
During the 1999-2000 season, live and delayed television coverage from two World Cups and live coverage from the World Championships was shown.
On Oct. 2, 1999, the FIBT achieved its goal to have skeleton included on the Olympic Games program. Skeleton has proved to be an attractive sport as it increases the use of expensive combined Olympic tracks. It has also been recognized as a sport that can help enrich the Olympic sports program.
Skeleton competition returned to the Olympic Winter Games in 2002 with men’s and women’s competition in Park City, Utah, ending its 54-year absence from the world’s most prestigious sports competition. The sport continued as an Olympic discipline in Cesana, Italy in 2006.
Skeleton joined men’s and women’s bobsleigh for multi-sport World Cup competitions in 2004-2005. This has enabled the FIBT to provide comprehensive coverage of skeleton events for television. The FIBT combined its World Championships at Königssee in 2004, offering skeleton, men’s bobsleigh and women’s bobsleigh events on one track over two weeks. Prior to this, Skeleton and women’s bobsleigh held separate World Championships.
Participation in skeleton has increased significantly as a result of its return to the Olympic program. Europa Cup and America’s Cup events have attracted large fields. In 2007-2008 the FIBT added an Intercontinental Cup circuit, one level below the World Cup, to provide additional skeleton competitions.
Information courtesy of The Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) (www.fibt.com/index.php?id=52)