It’s the adrenalin and speed-filled winter sport in which the goal is to slide head first down a bobsled track at speeds of up to 140km/h with the sole purpose of reaching the finish line in the fastest time possible. Skeleton is held on the same course as the bobsleigh and luge (1200m) disciplines. Competitor’s bodies will endure up to 5G during the banked turns of their runs, which are timed electronically to within 0.01 seconds. To gain momentum, athletes explode off the line using spiked shoes to grip the ice, then after reaching maximum speed, they dive into a prone position on the sled.
As if screaming down a run, face-first, with your face just millimeters from the ice wasn’t tough enough, when on the sled, turning is controlled by adjusting the positions of the head and shoulders. This disturbs the airflow over the body and weight distribution of the athlete on the sled. That’s right at this speed, aerodynamics plays a massive role in the sport, making the equipment used incredibly important. This sport is incredibly reliant on technology innovations.
Not everyone is capable of competing in Skeleton, it’s a very precise and competitive sport in which the United States of America have dominated. Male athletes need to be between 5’6” to 6’2” in height, weigh around 60 to 80 kg but more importantly, take less than 4 seconds to run 30m form a standing start. This explosion of power at the starting line is so critical, that micro-seconds here, translates to seconds at the bottom of the icy tube.
The sled used in Skeleton is an staggering piece of technology. It’s construction is a low-profile sled, with a fiberglass “pod” which provides the aerodynamics to the lower part, mounted onto a steel chassis/frame. The sled “runs” on two highly polished steel runners. Earlier this year, Mentor Graphics used FloEFD, their computational fluid dynamic simulations software to help develop the aerodynamics of 2013 World Championship-Winning Sled.
Shelley Rudman from Great Britain won her first world championship in St. Moritz, Switzerland on February 1, 2013. Her custom sled was designed and developed by Bromley Technologies Ltd., the leading high-performance Skeleton equipment supplier. The software has helped them achieve improved performance due to usability and functionality. It’s research and development like this that demonstrate just how critical the best tech really is to success in this sport.
In 2010, the FIBT restricted the materials with which skeleton sleds are permitted to be made. Sled frames must be made of steel and may not include steering or braking mechanisms. The base plate, however, may be made of plastics. The handles and bumpers found along the sides of the sled help secure the athlete during a run.
At the start of the race, the temperature of the runners must be within four degrees of a reference runner, which is exposed to the open air for one hour before the start of the competition. Warm runners are not allowed because the heat would decrease the friction between the runners and ice, making the sled faster.
Made from Aramid-carbon fibers (kevlar), the helmet used in skeleton is shaped to minimise resistance from airflow, whilst protecting the fragile head of the athlete. Crashes do happen in the sport and when the rider and the sled part ways, it’s easy for the head to make contact with the stone-like ice. Basically helmets have to be incredibly light, strong and that means expensive.
In 2010, ten members of the US skeleton team tried the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) simulator, using different helmets, suits and body positions to determine which combination gave them the best body flow and the least amount of drag. The team determined that different helmet styles work better for different sliders, which means it is important that each slider find the helmet best suited to the way they ride the sled. “Skeleton is very unique to the individual so that’s why this testing was so important”.
In Skeleton, athletes wear a skin-tight racing speedsuit, a single piece of clothing which tightly over the body. This reduces drag and increases that critical speed down the track. These are usually brightly coloured to represent team colours and also act as a possible place for sponsor support to be displayed.
Computer simulations and wind tunnels are a modern day reflection of how sophisticated this sport has become. On the surface, sliding down a hill on a sled seems simple enough, but with generations of competition, those who leverage technology will have the edge. Unlike bobsled, the body of the athlete is exposed, so creating a streamlined collaboration between athlete, helmet and sled makes all the difference.
Who is Chris Arnold ?
Chris Arnold is a 29 year old Australian Skeleton Athlete and has been selected to be a member of the Australian Olympic Shadow Team, which is a precursor to the final Australian Olympic Team. Arnold’s current goal is to compete and representing Australia in the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Currently Arnold holds a world ranking of 76 and has shown great potential when competing at an international level. In order to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics he needs to compete in the upcoming Intercontinental and World Cup seasons in October. If he is successful, he will gain final qualification for the games and Arnold is very confident he will be successful in his goal.
Arnold grew up in the NSW regional town of Deniliquin , but since moved to Melbourne where he works as an architect. Last year Chris invested his own money to venture to Europe to begin his journey to success. Relatively recent to the sport, Chris achieved better results than many who have been in the sport for more than a decade. Arnold combines natural ability with a serious dedication to the training that develops the crucial high twice muscle fibres that achieve the best launch possible. This explosion of power at the starting line is so critical, that micro-seconds here, translates to seconds at the bottom.
In the 2012-2013 season, Arnold has already achieved :
- First top 10 finish at Konigssee, Germany in Europa Cup, 2013
- 16th overall finish in 2013 European Cup
- Ranked number 2 in Australia
2013-2014 SEASON ASPIRATIONS:
- Intercontinental Cup – Europe & North America
- World Cup – Europe & North America
- 2014 Winter Olympic Games – Sochi, Russia
You can read more about Chris on his Olympic profile page here – http://sochi2014.olympics.com.au/athlete/chris-arnold
As you can imagine there are considerable cost in competing at this level, particularly with Australia being at a geographic disadvantage to other nations. As we’ve discussed technology plays a massive part in this sport and that doesn’t come free. There is currently no financial support available to prospective male Skeleton Olympic athletes from the Australian Institute of Sport, The Victorian Institute of Sport or the Australian Olympic Committee.
Arnold needs your help. The help of individuals and companies to ensure Australia competes with the best athlete, not just the ones who can afford it. If you run a company, or in a position of influence that can provide some support by way of sponsorship or a monetary donation, then I ask you, help Arnold achieve his dreams.
The costs associated with being an Aussie Skeleton Athlete include thousands of dollars in International flights. Hi-tech equipment including skin-tight racing speedsuit, spiked shoes and sled.
What’s in it for you
Sponsorship offers will be rewarded with both national and international exposure with branding opportunities on both my sled and helmet. If you would like to get on board or have any queries regarding the sport of Skeleton, please do leave a comment on this post or email me at jason@techAU.tv and I’ll put you in touch with Chris directly.
Individuals who support Arnold can follow him on social media (see below), watch his journey and know that you contributed to his success in representing Australia.
Connect with Chris
Disclaimer: I was introduced to the sport of Skeleton after meeting Chris in 2012. I am now happily engaged to his sister.