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Canada Scores in Skeleton
U.S. team not up to the challenge after losing key members.
By Michelle Sheena
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Canada's Duff Gibson competes in the men's skeleton event
Canada's Duff Gibson competes in the men's skeleton event at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Cesana Pariol, Italy, February 17, 2006.
(Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)
Saturday, February 18—U.S. skeleton racers were shut out of competition at the 2006 Winter Games in the Italian Alps. After winning two medals at the 2002 Games, it was a big disappointment.

This year Canadians—and trouble with drug testing and sexual harassment charges against a U.S. coach—got in the way. Canada won both the gold and silver in the skeleton. Switzerland took the bronze to keep the U.S. off the podium.

Canada nearly swept all of the medals, but slider Paul Boehm came in a close fourth to Switzerland's Gregor Staehli.

Duff Gibson, 39, fulfilled his dream of going gold. He also made history as the oldest athlete to win a gold medal. The silver went to Canadian slider Jeff Pain.

In a season plagued with controversy, the U.S. skeleton team came up short.

Coach Tim Nardiello was suspended after he was charged with sexual harassment. Dashing further hopes for a repeat of Salt Lake City medals, top U.S. Olympic contender Zach Lund was suspended from the Winter Games just hours before opening ceremonies. He tested positive for a hair regrowth product that is on the banned-substance list because it can mask steroid use.

Lund claims it was an honest and harmless mistake, but was suspended after a hearing.

"The day I found it was illegal," he stated, "I threw it away."

Lund's suspension is due to end November 9, 2006.

This left his teammates, Eric Bernotas, Kevin Ellis, and replacement Chris Soule, to fill a large void. The team could not rebound from all the obstacles.

"I tried but...this just wasn't my time," Chris Soule, Lund's substitute said.

Skeleton racing is a fast-paced, high-speed, sledding sport. The skeleton rider speeds down a shute on a rectangular sled, head first. The sledder grips handles on each side of the sled. Riders reach speeds exceeding 80 mph, a dangerous feat, considering there is no steering mechanism. To turn, the slider must shift his weight, lean with his shoulders or legs, or tap his toes. Usually the rider's head juts off the front, and the legs are dangling.

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About Skeleton

In the skeleton, athletes race facedown with their arms at their sides. Using the same track as the bobsled and the luge, they can reach speeds of up to 80 miles an hour. They steer their sled by moving their bodies.

Who to Watch
Top U.S. Male Athletes, Skeleton: Zack Lund, Eric Bernotas, Kevin Ellis, Chris Soule
Top U.S. Female Athletes, Skeleton: Katie Uhlaender, Noelle Pikus-Pace

Top International Competitors:Skeleton sliders Jeff Pain (Canada), Gregor Staehli (Switzerland), and Maya Pedersen (Switzerland) and Melissa Hollingsworth-Richards (Canada).

2002 U.S. Gold Medalists
Jim Shea won the gold in the men's skeleton. Tristan Gale won the gold in the women's skeleton.

Skeleton events take place on February 16-17.

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.