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Thursday, December 27, 2001
Updated: January 1, 5:27 PM ET
Fan Guide

By ESPN.com news services

References to sled racing first appeared in Norway in 1480 making it one of the oldest of the winter sports.

Lea Ann Parsley
Skeleton riders like American Lea Ann Parsley go down the hill with their chins only inches from the ice.

Although skeleton is making its Olympic "debut" at Salt Lake City, it actually was the world's first sliding sport organized in the late 1800s. It debuted at the Winter Games in 1928 in St. Moritz and made one other appearance at the Games in 1948.

Some of the first bobsleds were designed in the late 1880s in Albany, N.Y., by tying two sleds together. As the driver tried to gain speed, the passengers would have to bob up and down to increase speed and gain momentum thus giving it the name bobsled. The four-man bobsled was in the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

The word "luge" comes from the French word for sled, and it was in Europe's Alpine countries that it became a sport. It did not become an Olympic sport until 1964 at Innsbruck, Austria. The United States, having no luge program, fielded a team made up of American soldiers who were stationed in Europe.

FROM START TO FINISH
Bobsled

ESPN.com's animated fan guide feature takes you through the ins and outs of each sport. Check out each sport's fan guide for more.

Bobsled

Luge

Skeleton


Bobsled
Olympic competition dates:
Two man: Feb. 16-17
Two woman: Feb. 29
Four man: Feb. 22-23
Venue: Utah Olympic Park

The outlook
Men: Christoph Langen of Germany, gold medalist in two-man and four-man events at the world championships, is the top men's sledder. Langen and Markus Zimmermann won gold and bronze at Nagano.

World Cup leader Todd Hays and veteran Olympian Brian Shimer head the U.S. men's team, trying to win its first bobsled medal in 46 years. It will be Shimer's fifth and final Winter Olympics.

Switzerland's Martin Annen and Germany's Andre Lange are 2-3 in World Cup standings. Sandis Prusis of Latvia, one of the world's top four-man pilots, was reinstated after being banned from the games for steroids.

Women: Bonny Warner failed to qualify for the U.S. women's team, leaving Jean Racine and Gea Johnson as top American sledders. Racine set the track record on the Olympic bobsled course during the U.S. trials.

Brian Shimer
Brian Shimer is driving the No. 2 team for the United States.
Germany's Sandra Prokoff and Susi Erdmann and 2001 world champion Francoise Burdet of Switzerland are also considered strong contenders.

The finer points
It's all about speed. The Olympic competition consists of two-man, two-woman and four-man events, and the object is simple: Be the fastest team to the bottom of the course. The winner will be the team that gets a fast start and negotiates the course with the least friction.

All things being equal, the heaviest sled and crew will run the fastest, but only if the driver -- the front person in the sled -- manages to keep the sled on a tight line. He or she has avoid wasting valuable seconds by going too high in the curves or wasting valuable momentum by scraping the sides in the straightaways.

Bobsled tracks are typically about 1,200 to 1,300 meters and drop about 120 meters from start to finish. Salt Lake City's track is 1,335 meters and drops 117 meters, but it has the reputation of being one of the fastest in the world with large, sweeping curves.

Luge
Olympic competition dates:
Men: Feb. 10-11
Women: Feb. 12-13
Doubles: Feb. 15
Venue: Utah Olympic Park

The outlook
Men: Three-time Olympic champion Georg Hackl is back, competing despite the death of his father in December. Two-time World Cup champion Armin Zoeggler of Italy is favored.

Tony Benshoof and 1998 Olympian Adam Heidt are the top Americans along with Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin, bronze medalists at the Nagano Olympics.

Women: German teammates Silke Kraushaar, the defending Olympic champion, and Sylke Otto are the fastest female lugers. Angelika Neuner of Austria and Barbara Niederhuber of Germany also are medal hopefuls.

The finer points
Luge racers start from a sitting position and push off with their hands. Gloves with spikes on the palms grip the ice. Once they're moving, racers lie back to eliminate as much air resistance as possible. As in bobsled, gravity takes over, and the racers try to maintain momentum by taking a smooth line through the turns and staying away from the sides in the straightaways.

On the fast track in Park City, Utah, drivers will need to watch their line, or route, during the 7-10 combination and curves 12-14 also will provide a test.

Skeleton
Olympic competition dates: Feb. 20
Venue: Utah Olympic Park

The outlook
Men: Jack Shea, world champion in 1999, is America's top medal hope and a third generation Olympian. His grandfather, 91-year-old Jack, was killed in an auto accident 17 days before the opening ceremonies. Jack Sr. won golds in the 500-meter and 1,500-meter speedskating events at the 1932 Games. Jim Shea competed in three Nordic events at the 1964 Games.

American Lincoln DeWitt, who won a World Cup event last February, Martin Rettl of Austria and Jeff Pain of Canada are other medal hopefuls.

Women: Two-time world champ Alex Coomber of Britain, Maya Pedersen of Switzerland and American Tricia Stumpf are top competitors in the first women's skeleton competition.

The finer points
For skeleton racers the start is the most important portion of the race. Racers run while pushing their sled before jumping on headfirst. They ride down the slope with their chins only inches from the ice with only their feet to steer and brake. Sleds can reach up to 80 mph and race on the same tracks as bobsleds.

American Jim Shea played a large role in returning the sport to the Olympics. In 1998, Shea became the first American to ever win a World Cup race before going on to win the World Championship in 1999. Shea campaigned heavily for the International Olympic Committee to recognize skeleton as an Olympic sport.