Sunday, January 24, 2010

Anatomy and winter sports: the word skeleton

The word skeleton comes from the Medical Latin word sceletus, which has its roots in Greek terms such as skleros, meaning hard, and skeleton soma, meaning dried-up body or mummy.
Today, the English word skeleton means framework. We may think of our own anatomical framework and the bone structures of other humans and animals. The noun skeleton is further used, for example, in architecture, referring to the steel skeleton of skyscrapers and in chemistry, referring to “essential parts of a molecular structure” such as the molecular backbone and some of its branches. Last not least, there is the skeleton in sliding sports. A skeleton, made of fiberglass as well as metal and somewhat resembling a human skeleton, takes an athlete downhill on snow or ice—just as a bobsleigh or a luge. Men's skeleton was raced in St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928 and 1948 Olympic Winter Games) and thereafter disappeared for a while from the Olympic scene. Since the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, USA, men's and women's skeleton are raced. This year's Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, are an excellent occasion to watch skeleton races (see About the Sport for more on “skeletoning”) at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

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