SKELETON RACE: Adrenaline and ice

Former TNL editor and reporter, Michelle Bartleman Loscher has a relatively typicalresume: UAA Alumni; ex-track sprinter, rugby player, and gymnast; to date: Skeleton Racer…?

What is Skeleton racing?

Skeleton racing is a combination of breakneck speeds and intense turns, while lying flat on a toboggan-like sled cruising head-first down a track.

Introduced in the late 19th century, Switzerland created skeleton racing by combining the popularity of tobogganing and the thrill of speeds upwards of 70 mph. Original tracks were straight downhills but soon curves were added to make the sport more challenging.

The first recorded skeleton events were in 1887, but skeleton racing was not brought to the Olympics until 1928 when the Olympics were held in Switzerland.

Skeleton sleds are much like a luge. Instead of two sharp runners running lengthwise that guide the sled along, however, skeleton sleds have two pieces of metal running lengthwise that lie flat on the ice. Skeleton racers must use the gravitational force of their speed to keep them on the icy track.

So how did the petite athlete Bartleman get into such an interesting and obscure sport?

- Advertisement -

“After I’d finished and graduated, I really wasn’t done being an athlete,” Bartleman said. “So after watching Skeleton, I looked at my background and said: well I have all this body control, or body awareness, from being a gymnast, and I have this sprinting background. So I know I’m fast, and those two things seemed to be the two main factors for Skeleton.”

Bartleman was born in Quebec, where she grew up competing in ski racing and gymnastics, and got into curling while she attended Riverdale High School.

After graduating from Riverdale in 1995, Bartleman moved to Langley, British Columbia to attend Trinity Western University. During her tenure at Trinity, she played collegiate rugby for two years. She transferred to Vanier College in St. Laurent Quebec after that, where she studied Literature and Languages.

Bartleman said she never planned on making skeleton racing her career; she never planned on going to college in the US, let alone playing college sports.

In 2000 she moved to Alaska to study Aviation Technology at UAA and got involved in college gymnastics.

“When she contacted me she said she was playing rugby, and I was rather blunt and asked, ‘How big are you?'” head coach of UAA’s gymnastics squad Paul Stoklos said. After Bartleman assured Stoklos that she was a winger, a position that does not require big people, Stoklos took a chance on the 5’3″ petite Canadian and never regretted it.

“Michelle was probably one of the hardest working athletes we ever had,” Stoklos said.

After three years on UAA’s gymnastics team she decided to use her last eligible year competing on UAA’s track team.

“If I hadn’t run track, I don’t think I ever would have started Skeleton,” she said.

Bartleman left Alaska in 2006, moving back to Canada with her husband. Intrigued by how well the Canadian Skeleton team did in the 2006 Torino Olympics, she tried out for the Canadian team and quickly passed all the requirements. After finishing summer training in Calgary, British Columbia, she started racing for the Canadian developmental team.

Since Oct. 2006, Bartleman has made 319 runs on all four of the tracks in North America. Hoping to compete in the 2014 Olympics in Russia, she says “outlasting people and waiting your turn” is the key to grabbing a slot in this competitive sport.

There are only two women’s spots open per country for every Olympics. Racers can only get about two runs in every practice; surpassing skeleton racers with more years of experience is not a common occurrence.

“That is what I admire the most about Michelle,” said Bartleman’s coach Duff Gibson. “She enjoys the sport when she does it but she also does what it takes to advance and get better.”

“Running very fast, bent over, pushing a sled is very awkward but I’ve watched her over the years and I’m glad to see that she has made the transition,” said Gibson, a 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist in skeleton racing.

Although her career as a skeleton racer is impressive in itself, Bartleman has many interests and talents.

She enjoyed performing stand-up comedy throughout her college years in both Alaska and in British Columbia, where she was in the groups “11:07 Comedy Improv” and “Gagged and Bound”.

At her wedding in June of 2003 to Jason Loscher, she strutted down the aisle in Converses while the Star Wars theme song played in the background.

“I had a pair of knock-off Converses that my friend gave me in high school and I swore that I’d always wear them to my wedding, so I did,” Bartleman said. “For the record, I put glitter on my wedding Converses, and like, lacy bows.”

She currently lives in Squamish, British Columbia with her husband, their cat and many guppies.

“Always a bright person, very witty, things like that that have helped her get to where she is now,” Stoklos said. “Michelle will never quit being an athlete; she will be one of these old people running old folks track meets when she’s 60.”