Do you think that skeleton is the best sport in the Winter Olympics?
I won’t be mad if you tell me the truth. However, if you call skeleton upside-down luge, I will be mad. Skeleton is the world’s first sliding sport, and yet people always compare it to luge and bobsled, instead of the other way around. That’s like saying Drake inspired Lil Wayne or that Tom Petty’s “American Girl” must’ve been influenced by the Strokes’ “Last Nite.” No! Skeleton came first, born after some absolute maniacs decided to hurl themselves down a Swiss mountain in the 19th century. Skeleton is the most metal of all Olympic sports, and it deserves our attention.
The first two heats for the men’s sliders got the 2018 skeleton competition off to a running start Thursday morning in Pyeongchang—literally, because skeleton sliders (UNLIKE FAR INFERIOR LUGE SLIDERS) must run to mount their tiny, fancy sleds. Skeleton is a solo sport, always one person alone on the ice chute. This makes skeleton the only sliding sport that doesn’t look goofy. The headfirst positioning is dangerous and dignified. Luge competitors seem to lay back (sometimes on top of each other) and let the race take them where it may; bobsledders crowd into their cars like sleek clowns. Skeleton competitors, heads down, eyes on the ice, have endangered their skulls to achieve maximum aerodynamism and grace.
They’re also allowed to choose the decorations on their helmets, and they do a perfect job:
An art gallery, but for skeleton helmets. #WinterOlympics pic.twitter.com/cXBfjTS0V9— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 15, 2018
The local favorite and front-runner in this year’s games, South Korea’s “Iron Man” Yun Sung-Bin, took the lead in the qualifying rounds, although there’s still one more day of racing to go before medals are awarded. The 23-year-old set a track record with his second run, to the great delight of the home-country crowd. (His helmet is, appropriately, decked out in an Iron Man theme.) Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong, whose helmet represents a rabbit escaping from the jaws of a lion, finished last in the qualifying rounds, but that didn’t take away from his status as another beloved fan favorite. Frimpong didn’t pick up skeleton until he was 30, just two years ago, and is Ghana’s first Olympic skeleton slider.
The United States has two sliders, Matt Antoine (who took bronze in Sochi) and John Daly (who, according to Us Weekly, “really cares about his hair”). I am rooting for both, although I like Antoine more because he is stirring up the greatest thing of all: Olympic drama. Antoine has been going on record to dis the athletes from Russia. “Do I believe they’ve competed fairly? No, and I’ve been very vocal about that. So I don’t really have a need to have a conversation with those athletes,” he told Reuters. Nikita Tregubov, one of the athletes competing from Russia, is currently in second place. Antoine and Daly are in 11th and 13th, respectively.
Also stirring up skeleton drama: Great Britain’s ultra-svelte speedsuits. They were cleared by Olympic officials for racing, so they’re not illegal, per se, but the material they are made from is so aerodynamic that it has other competitors grumbling. “I’m not a scientist,” American skeleton slider Katie Uhlaender, who is not a scientist, told the AP. “I just know that I was trying to get a suit of the same quality and I was told that it was illegal.” (The suits haven’t proved that great, as Great Britain’s Dom Parsons sits in fourth.)
Scandal! Intrigue! Lots of ice! Nobody wiped out on the course’s notoriously twisty Curve 9 during the first skeleton round, but there are three more to go. Hold on to your immaculately decorated helmets.