If you slid down the natural course of a skeleton track then you would feel like you were in a washing machine! You would be oscillating up and down in the corners and not taking the fastest route to the bottom.
In order to take the quickest and less bumpy route, you need to reduce the distance you travel – that’s why steering the sled is so important. Each track has its own characteristics too, some are twisty and technical, others have long powerful curves, so you have to vary your racing technique according to the track.
The most crucial thing about skeleton is that I create all of my own speed. I start at the block standing still, and have to run as fast as possible and jump onto the sled without slowing the sled down, getting the most amount of velocity into the first corner as I can.
For the push start you have to run bent down to the sled, trying to push something very heavy along sheet ice with only one hand! It is really difficult and takes many years to perfect, I have certainly missed the sled whilst jumping on a few times! The key things are to keep the sled in front of you, don’t move faster than the sled or you’ll have to turn around to jump onto it!
A skeleton sled has no brakes or steering wheel – so you have to steer using movements of your body. Tiny movements can make a difference – if you just look to either side, the air rushing past your head will slowly move the sled to the left or right.
For a dramatic steer you would use your toe, so you could dig it into the ice and like a rudder on a boat it will change the angle of the sled very quickly.
For all the steering in between you would use your body, such as shifting the weight or moving your shoulders, to get the sled to go in the right direction.
The trick in skeleton racing isn’t just about the fastest top speed, but being the fastest athlete down the hill over 2 or 4 runs. Every corner counts, you have to minimise your mistakes.
For the perfect corner you need to be on the side of the track to where the corner starts, called the inside line. The sled will match the corner and rise up smoothly, instead of coming into a corner on the outside line you will shoot straight upwards!
Once you are in the corner the sled needs to take a smooth course around the curve, waving up and down as little as possible. Once you see the end of the corner you have to be ready to drop down out of the corner onto the straight section, and remember the steers for the next corner!