Schedule of Events
The skeleton might just be the original extreme sport. In a bobsled athletes are encapsulated, and in the luge at least any accidents will be absorbed by the legs before the rest of the body. In the skeleton, a person toboggans down the same icy chute… except face-first and on his or her stomach, experiencing forces approaching 5G in the process as they hurtle at speeds around 80 mph down the track.
Originating in the Swiss town of St. Moritz and codified as a sport there as early as 1887, the men and women who will hurl themselves down the Whistler Sliding Centre are true daredevils. This certainly isn’t the tobogganing you remember from your childhood, racing down hills near home on Flexible Flyers with friends before going back inside for cocoa.
In the skeleton, even more than the luge and bobsled, knowing the track is of paramount importance to both speed and safety. Four years ago, foreign teams were up in arms about the dearth of training time on the Whistler track. The arguments were somewhat validated when Canada’s Jon Montgomery, a longshot candidate for the podium, won the entire competition. And this year, the Russians could pull off a similar surprise on their track in Sochi.
The men’s skeleton has been dominated in recent years by Latvian racer Martins Dukurs. With six wins in eight races, he sealed his fifth consecutive World Cup crown in the season that wrapped up this winter prior to the Olympics. The world champion in 2011 and 2012, he slipped to second on the podium in Whistler at the 2013 world championships — the same position he occupied in Vancouver behind Montgomery, who is now retired from the sport. He is, though, the five-time reigning European champion in the skeleton, and his consistent run of form makes him the prohibitive favorite.Dukurs, whose brother Tomass is also a medal candidate, will be challenged most by Alexander Tretiakov. The 28-year-old from Krasnoyarsk was a bronze medalist in Vancouver four years ago, and surprised Dukurs and the world last winter when he won the world championship in Whistler. If anyone is going to gain an advantage from getting sufficient training time on the technical Sochi track, it will be either Tretiakov or his Russian teammate (and 2013 world championship bronze medalist) Sergei Chudinov.
American fans have a potential hopeful in Matthew Antoine. The 28-year-old from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin has had a breakthrough season in the World Cup this winter and could pressure the established favorites for a spot on the podium. In addition to winning the race at Lake Placid in December, he landed on two other podiums and finished third in the overall standings.
The Germans, so dominant in the luge, will be mere dark-horse candidates in the men’s skeleton. Their two main stars, Frank Rommel and Alexander Kroeckel, finished fifth and sixth respectively in the recently finished World Cup.
Women’s skeleton racing has long been lorded over by the racers from English-speaking nations. Four years ago, Great Britain’s Amy Williams won the skeleton in Vancouver. Since then, only the Germans have managed to challenge racers from Britain, Canada, and the United States on the tracks of the world.
While Williams is now retired from the sport, the Brits will have plenty of contenders to ensure that the Olympic championship stays on the island. The defending world champion, Shelley Rudman, also won the World Cup overall in 2012 and was a silver medalist in Torino eight years ago. The current World Cup overall champion, Lizzy Yarnold, was a bronze medalist at the world championships in Lake Placid in 2012. Either or both could finish on the podium in Sochi.The Americans will give them a serious dose of competition. 2012 world champion Katie Uhlaender will hope to recapture the form that won her gold in Lake Placid. Noelle Pikus-Pace, the runner-up in this year’s World Cup overall, won four races this year and also captured the World Cup event on the Sochi track last season. Both women will have a serious shot at contending for the podium and even possibly capturing gold.
Sarah Reid has taken up the mantle of Canada’s strongest skeleton contender. The 26-year-old took bronze at the world championships in 2013, and she had two podium finishes on the World Cup circuit this season. She will be joined in Sochi by teammate Melissa Hollingsworth, who suffered heartbreak in Vancouver when her final run dropped her from second to fifth to completely miss out on a podium finish in her home country. Hollingsworth was the Olympic bronze medalist in Torino, and she most recently won the silver medal at the 2012 world championships.
The Germans will give the English speakers the best challenge. Marion Thees, the 2011 world champion, was also the World Cup overall champion in 2012-2013. Her compatriot, Anja Huber, arrives in Sochi having won the world championship six years ago and maintaining a consistent level of excellence since then. Huber took bronze in Vancouver and will hope to step further up the podium this Olympiad. Most recently she was the 2011-2012 World Cup champion and placed second at the 2012 world championships.
Skeleton Medal Favorites
|MEN'S||Martins Dukurs (LAT)||Alexander Tretiakov (RUS)||Tomass Dukurs (LAT)|
|WOMEN'S||Noelle Pikus-Pace (USA)||Lizzy Yarnold (GBR)||Marion Thees (GER)|