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Face-Down, Head-First, 90 Miles An Hour On The Ice

Matt Antoine, who won a bronze award during a 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, dives onto his sled from a full sprint. “You always have to be on your toes in a sport,” he says. “When you’re relocating 80, 90 miles an hour, we can’t get lazy.”

John Tully for NPR


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Matt Antoine, who won a bronze award during a 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, dives onto his sled from a full sprint. “You always have to be on your toes in a sport,” he says. “When you’re relocating 80, 90 miles an hour, we can’t get lazy.”

John Tully for NPR

At a winter Olympics, that get underway subsequent month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, some of a many peppery speeds will come in a 3 high-adrenaline shifting sports, where tip athletes zip on a ice during about 90 miles an hour.

There’s bobsled, kind of like a downhill competition automobile on steel runners.

Olympic veterans and hopefuls in skeleton from countries around a universe took use runs in Nov in Lake Placid, N.Y., heading adult to a bobsled and skeleton World Cup races.

John Tully for NPR


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John Tully for NPR

Olympic veterans and hopefuls in skeleton from countries around a universe took use runs in Nov in Lake Placid, N.Y., heading adult to a bobsled and skeleton World Cup races.

John Tully for NPR

In a luge, athletes distortion behind on a sled, going down a lane feet initial and face up.

And afterwards there’s skeleton, where racers go head-first, face-down, in a blink-and-you-miss-it fuzz of speed.

What lures athletes to this sport?

Katie Uhlaender, one of a tip U.S. skeleton athletes — both a World Cup champion and universe champion, aiming for her fourth Olympics during age 33 — explains a interest this way:

“It is a ideal multiple of meathead and freestyle zen athlete,” Uhlaender says. “And,” she adds with a grin, “due to my brief courtesy span, it suits me well!”

It takes reduction than a notation for an chosen skeleton contestant to competition down a mile-long track: 50-some seconds of speed thrills.

For Uhlaender, a pivotal to success is submitting to her fear.

“I welcome it,” she says. “I start going with gravity, and afterwards find myself wanting more. So we start chasing a speed and usually dancing with a curves. It’s like those dreams where you’re flying, solely if we disaster adult here, you’re going to strike a wall!”

Which happens, often.

Savannah Graybill, 29, remembers a initial time her relatives came to watch her competition several years back. They were station usually inches away, alongside a lane in Lake Placid, New York, examination as their daughter’s sled slammed into a wall and strike a patch of unprotected concrete.

“And sparks fly everywhere,” Graybill recalls.

Matt Antoine (left) of Prairie du Chien, Wisc., won bronze in skeleton during a 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Katie Uhlaender (center) of Breckenridge, Colo., is aiming for her fourth Olympics. John Daly from Smithtown, N.Y., has competed in skeleton in dual Winter Olympics.

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Matt Antoine (left) of Prairie du Chien, Wisc., won bronze in skeleton during a 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Katie Uhlaender (center) of Breckenridge, Colo., is aiming for her fourth Olympics. John Daly from Smithtown, N.Y., has competed in skeleton in dual Winter Olympics.

John Tully for NPR

Her relatives ran to a finish line, terrified.

“They’re awaiting to see me come adult by a finish line, we know, blank an arm,” she says, “and they’re freaking out: ‘We usually saw sparks! We saw we come by here; we suspicion we were dead!’ I’m like, ‘Oh no, it was fine.’ And they’re usually looking during me like, ‘What are you? Are we crazy? You’re literally crazy.’ “

According to Olympic bronze medalist Matt Antoine, 32, examination skeleton competence be scarier than indeed doing it.

“Sometimes when I’m examination other sleds go down a track, we don’t even comprehend how quick we’re going,” he says. But, he adds, progressing a bit of fear is wise: “You always have to be on your toes in a sport. When you’re relocating 80, 90 miles an hour, we can’t get lazy.”

A skeleton run starts with a detonate of bomb speed and power. The athletes lurch for about 30 yards on a ice, pulling their sleds with one hand. Picture perplexing to scurry while you’re folded in half, with one palm on a ground.

Kendall Wesenberg of Modesto, Calif., launches into her training run on a skeleton lane in Lake Placid, N.Y.

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Kendall Wesenberg of Modesto, Calif., launches into her training run on a skeleton lane in Lake Placid, N.Y.

John Tully for NPR

“It’s a unequivocally awkward, bent-over position,” Antoine says, one “you would never do in track.”

After a push, skeleton racers dive onto a sleds conduct initial (they are wearing helmets), perplexing to mold their bodies into a sleds and relax, staying as still as probable while going 90 miles an hour. They continue army adult to 5Gs going around a curves.

Steering comes by tiny movements of shoulders and knees, dire into a sled so it flexes. The racer’s feet hang off a back; conduct and neck, off a front. The chin rests usually an in. or dual off a ice.

“Obviously, we don’t wish your face scraping opposite a ice, ’cause it does delayed we down,” Antoine says. “But it also doesn’t feel good.”

Skeleton racers have to keep their heads aerodynamically low to revoke drag, so they can usually see a few feet forward of them. But they’ve memorized a march forward of time, visualized a curves and designed their lines.

“For me, we feel a ice pierce underneath my chest, so that’s how we can feel a pressures and know how to approach my sled,” Uhlaender says. “And we roughly daydream myself from a bird’s-eye indicate of perspective of where we wish to finish up, and we somehow finish adult there. It’s like The Force!”

It takes chosen skeleton athletes reduction than a notation to competition down a mile-long, 20-curve lane in Lake Placid, reaching speeds adult to 90 miles an hour.

John Tully for NPR


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John Tully for NPR

It takes chosen skeleton athletes reduction than a notation to competition down a mile-long, 20-curve lane in Lake Placid, reaching speeds adult to 90 miles an hour.

John Tully for NPR

Skeleton, that returned to a Olympics in 2002 after decades of deficiency — and whose name source is a matter of debate — is a niche sport, so it recruits healthy athletes who have excelled in other disciplines.

Graybill’s competition was margin hockey. She was recruited for bobsled after college, though found she wasn’t large and clever adequate to be a contender, so she done a switch to skeleton.

“It was a healthy fit,” she says. “Ever given we was a kid, I’ve always desired thrills and adrenaline. we desired sledding. we desired drum coasters. we desired anything that could give we that rush.”

Going into her initial skeleton run, Graybill was terrified.

Savannah Graybill of Denver, Pa., a skeleton racer with a U.S. inhabitant group given 2011, warms adult nearby a starting line during Lake Placid before a training run. “Ever given we was a kid, I’ve always desired thrills and adrenaline,” she says.

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Savannah Graybill of Denver, Pa., a skeleton racer with a U.S. inhabitant group given 2011, warms adult nearby a starting line during Lake Placid before a training run. “Ever given we was a kid, I’ve always desired thrills and adrenaline,” she says.

John Tully for NPR

“I remember feeling like we was going during diverge speed, and removing down to a bottom and checking that all was still there, and thinking, ‘OK, we need to go behind adult and do this again,'” she says. “That was approach too cool.”

Antoine grew adult snowboarding and using lane in Wisconsin. He saw skeleton for a initial time on radio during a 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and was hooked.

He arrived in Lake Placid for his initial shifting propagandize a few months later, when he was 17.

“When we initial come into skeleton, we unequivocally have no thought what to expect,” he says. “You usually kind of reason on and wish for a best.”

Twelve years later, Antoine was station on a lectern in Sochi, Russia, with an Olympic bronze award around his neck (and since of a Russian doping scandal, he’s slated to be upgraded to silver).

As for Uhlaender, she competed in a far-reaching operation of sports in high school: skiing, energy lifting, lane and ball — a passion she hereditary from her father, Ted Uhlaender, a major-league outfielder for 8 seasons.

Poised on a starting retard in Lake Placid, N.Y., Kendall Wesenberg is opposed for one of 3 women’s skeleton spots on Team USA for a 2018 Winter Olympics.

John Tully for NPR


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Poised on a starting retard in Lake Placid, N.Y., Kendall Wesenberg is opposed for one of 3 women’s skeleton spots on Team USA for a 2018 Winter Olympics.

John Tully for NPR

“I played ball all a approach until we couldn’t,” Katie says, “until we satisfied we was 5 feet 3 and female, and a vital leagues were a distant reach.”

When a associate contestant due she try skeleton, she valid a natural, zooming adult improbably quick by a ranks. Just a few months after she took her initial skeleton run, she won a women’s inhabitant championship, and a coaches started bathing her for a Olympics.

Now, presumption she creates a 2018 U.S. Olympic team, she’ll be competing in her fourth Olympic games.

The prodigy of skeleton, Uhlaender says, is like zero else we can imagine.

“You have a free-falling feeling,” she says, “basically like a H2O slide, though epically fast.”