The Slippery Science of Skeleton

Many Winter Olympic sports have ancient origins, dating to times when humans invented new ways of getting around in the harsh, white wilderness. Skiing may have first emerged 10,000 years ago in Altay, China, and the Indigenous Sámi word for skiing (“čuoigat”) is estimated to be 6,000 to 8,000 years old. Thousands of years ago in Northern Europe, people strapped animal bones to their feet to skate around on ice. And the First Peoples in Canada used toboggans to transport goods.

The sport called skeleton has no such hallowed origins in the practical transport of humans or goods, despite technically taking place on a sled. Life was hard enough without central heating; there was no reason to hurtle face-first down a frozen chute on a brakeless sled.

Yet for all the modernity of…

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