Skeleton returned to the Olympics in 2002 after a 54-year hiatus. The sport was previously contested in both 1928 and 1948, the two times the Winter Games were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The resort town in the Swiss Alps is widely considered birthplace of the sport. So when the Olympics came to St. Moritz, skeleton was added to the Olympic program and contested on the famed Cresta Run in St. Moritz. Only a men's event was held. Since the Winter Games never returned to St. Mortiz, skeleton never returned to the Olympic program.
But the in late 1980s and 1990s, skeleton experienced a revival and the sport's international circuit began to thrive. Finally, in 1999, at the urging of the sport's governing body, the FIBT, skeleton was returned the Olympic program, starting with the 2002 Salt Lake Games. Both men's and women's events were added, and women's bobsled, which is also under the auspices of the FIBT was added at the same time.
Torino, 2006: Canadian rivals turned collaborators Duff Gibson and Jeff Pain finished one-two in the men's event. Gibson, a 39-year-old firefighter, edged Pain, a 35-year-old landscape architect, by .26 seconds over two runs. Swiss veteran Gregor Staehli won bronze, as he did at the Salt Lakes Games four years earlier, and became just the second person to win two Olympic skeleton medals. In the absence of top American Zach Lund, who was suspended after testing positive for finasteride (contained, according to Lund, in his hair restoration medication), the highest U.S. finisher was sixth-place Eric Bernotas. The American women were without 2005 World Cup champion Noelle Pikus-Pace, who fell just short in her recovery from a broken leg after being hit by an errant bobsled in October. Lone U.S. entrant Katie Uhlaender wound up sixth, while gold went to two-time world champion Maya Pederson of Switzerland. Great Britain's Shelley Rudman was the surprise silver medalist ahead of Mellisa Hollingsworth of Canada.
Salt Lake, 2002: After a 54-year hiatus, skeleton returned to the Olympic program for the 2002 Salt Lake Games. And just like the original Olympic skeleton race in 1928, when Jennison Heaton won and his brother John took silver, an American claimed gold. Jim Shea, a third-generation Olympian, competed in Salt Lake with a photo of his grandfather, Jack, in his helmet. Jack had read the Athletes' Oath at the 1932 Opening Ceremony before winning two speed skating gold medals. Jim's father, James, competed in nordic combined and cross-country skiing at the 1964 Innsbruck Games. At the start of 2002, 91-year-old Jack Shea was the oldest living U.S. Olympian and was planning to attend the Salt Lake Games to take part in the Opening Ceremony and to cheer on his grandson, the 1999 world champion. But 17 days before the Opening Ceremony, Jack's car was struck by a drunk driver, and the 1932 gold medalist later died from injuries suffered in the accident. At the Opening Ceremony, Jim read the Athletes' Oath - as his grandfather had done seven decades before - and he and his father were torchbearers inside Rice-Eccles Stadium. For all the history and tragic poignancy in Shea's story, he still had to go out and perform in the two-run skeleton competition. He led after the first run over Austria's Martin Rettl by 13-hundredths of a second, overcoming a slow start with a blistering finish. In the second run, he was the last to go, with Austria's Rettl in the lead. Shea again had a mediocre start, keeping him off Rettl's pace throughout much of his run. But as he neared the finish, he closed on Rettl's time in the final moments and picked up enough time to win by .05 seconds in a total time of 1:41.96. After the race, Shea pulled out the photo of his grandfather and showed it to the television cameras. Rettl took silver, and Switzerland's Gregor Staehli won bronze. American Lincoln DeWitt was fifth, and Chris Soule was seventh.
Salt Lake, 2002: Competing on American ice during the most successful Winter Games in U.S. history, Americans won gold and silver in the inaugural women's skeleton competition. Tristan Gale, a 21-year-old Home Depot employee from Salt Lake City competing in her first major international event, won gold. She finished one-tenth of a second ahead of silver medalist Lea Ann Parsley, a firefighter from Ohio. Gale was a total surprise for gold. The 2001-02 season was her first on the World Cup circuit, and she had unspectacular results. But Gale seized the lead after the first day by the most narrow of margins - Parsley stood in second, one-hundredth of a second behind. One of the favorites, 2000 and 2001 World Cup champion Alex Coomber of Great Britain lurked in third, though pre-race gold-medal contenders Steffi Hanzlik of Germany (sixth) and Switzerland's Maya Pedersen (seventh) struggled. Gale was the last to go in the second run. Parsley was in the lead with Coomber in second and Germany's Diana Sartor in third. As she had on her first run, Gale was among the slowest performers at the top of the course but made up ground throughout, eventually finishing one-tenth of a second ahead of Parsley to clinch gold in a total time of 1:45.11.