Geo. Nichols | January 20, 2006

Book Review: Headfirst: The Olympic Success Story of Skeleton (by Robie Vaughn and Mike Towle)

The sport of skeleton makes for one of the world's greatest unwritten stories.

Upon telling people I'm a skeleton slider they almost invariably respond "skeleton? What's that?," only to be left wide-eyed upon learning that participants dive headfirst onto a sled and plunge at speeds of 70-80 mph down a mountainside ice track for a minute of sheer thrill (or terror).

Such elements make for a captivating story, as recounted in Headfirst, the first-ever book on this daredevil Winter Olympic sport. Author Robie Vaughn (former director of the sport's American federation) recounts the wild adventures of pioneering American athletes (including himself), as well as his leadership role among enthusiasts who successfully lobbied to add skeleton to the 2002 Olympic program, thereby boosting the sport's worldwide popularity. Along the way, Vaughn and his colleagues overcame serious obstacles, particularly jealous bobsled officials who actively subverted their efforts behind the scenes.

Despite Headfirst's merits, readers seeking a simple and up-to-date overview of the sport (i.e. profiles of current star athletes, how to take lessons, etc) may find this book lacking. Resembling an autobiography, the book instead devotes tremendous ink to Vaughn's circle of family and friends, his successes as a Texas oil-and-gas executive, as well as his exploits in activities such as mountain climbing. Coinciding with Vaughn's greatest involvement in the sport, Headfirst is primarily set in the years 1997-2002, leaving readers in the dark about the sport's major developments in subsequent years.

Despite these limitations, Headfirst is a worthwhile reading for those seeking an insider's glimpse of skeleton's arrival on the Olympic stage.

See book's official site or product page.