Introduction to Bobsled

Bobsledding is that crazy sport you see at the winter olympics, where either 2 of 4 men push a big sled like contraption along some grooves in the ice, to try and build up enough initial speed to get them down the specially designed course as fast as possible. You may also notice that occasionally a man falls over and rolls over a few times, or that the men virtually always scream/yell during the pushing stage (this, i hear from an unreliable source, is either for motivation, or from fear of whats ahead). While these 2 events are sometimes funny, the sport itself iscan be very dangerous and the athletes who participate take the sport and its assocaited risks very seriously.

History of Bobsled

Bobsledding got its name from how the crews gained speed during their runs. The team would bob back and forth to increase the sleds speed, thus hopefully decreasing their overall time.

The early history of the sport is sketchy and still debated. The United States Bobsled & Skeleton Federation claim that the sport was invented when Stephen Whitney, an American tourist to St. Moritz ski resort in Switzerland , introduced the first steel skeleton in 1888. The FIBT (Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing to make sense of the abbreviated term) claim it was invented by the Swiss in the very late 19th Centuary when they attached a steering mechanism to a toboggan. The IOC claim it was invented by British and American tourists in 1882, who created the first run down a road in St. Moritz. Which is true? I don't know, what is known is that the first steel bobsled was built in England around 1910, which quickly became used by everyone.

The very first club was started in 1897 in St. Moritz, composed of mainly rich and affluent people who could afford to participate in the sport. However, the very first bobsleding tournement was help almost 10 years earlier in 1885, one on of 3 courses that had recently been built. It attracted 20 competitors. The sport became very popular in Europe due to the winters being mostly ideal for sledding, especially on natural courses. FIBT was founded in 1923 to govern the sport worldwide. The very next year, the 4 man bobsled competition appeared at the very first Winter Olympics, followed by the introduction of the 2 man competition at the following winter olympics 4 years later. These formats have existed ever since.

By the 1950's, it was realised that a fast start was the key to getting a fast time, so athletes from other sports such as athletics were recruited. This however led to teams getting the biggest and strongest men for their teams, creating an unbalance between teams with lighter competitors. A law change limiting the total overall weight of the sled (taken with the 2/4 team members in it) was introduced to help bring balance back to the sport.

In the mid 1980's, FIBT introduced the World Cup competition, to take place through the winter months, that would mean consistency through the world cup season (and on different tracks) was the key for a good ranking, rather than a a good run at the olympics every 4 years. Not surprisingly European countries have been the main dominators of the sport (Switzerland and Germany are the top ranked countries in the sport) recently more countries are coming into the rankings.

A breakthrough for equality (if thats what you wish to call it) came in 1999 when it was announced that for the first time, a womens 2 man bobsled event would be included at the 2002 Salt Lake City winter olympics. This was vindication for the womens competition that had first appeared in World Cup events in the early 1990's.

Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing

Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT for short) was founded in 1923 to be a central controlling body for the sports of bobsledding and skeleton (the topic of another node, however, in short, imagine going down a bobsled track on a skateboard). It's headquarter are in Milan, Italy. Its main task is to control and develop the sport, make sure rules are adheared to, promote the sport and decide on the eligibility of member/would-be member nations.

There are currently 56 member nations, ranging from the obvious European nations, to other unlikely ones, such as Australia and Jamaica (the story of which has been made into a feature film).

Bobsledding Equipment

The Sled: In the 2 man competiton, the sled mst be no longer than 2.7 meters and exactly 0.67 meters wide, (this is due to the small tracks in the ice at the start to keep the sled straight as its pushed, any wider or narrower and the sled wouldnt fall into the tracks). The maximum weight (including competitors) is 390kg,

In the 4 man competition the sled itself may be no longer than 3.8 meters and must be 0.67 meters wide. Overall weight of the sled may not be more than 630kg (that includes team members). In both events, weight bars are allowed to be installed to take the sled up to its maximum weight.

Sleds can cost anywhere up to $35,000 US to build plus up to another $5,000 for the runners that fit to the bottom if it, however many of the high ranked nations supply their team with sleds.

b>Clothing: The shoes worn are special shoes, designed and supplied by Adidas (the only official supplier), specially made for running on ice. The suits are similar to what skiiers wear, designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. Gloves are also advised. Due to the speed the sleds can reach (80-90mph), a helmet is also required in case of an accident.

A note on sled speed: Unfortunately, due to the difference between courses, a record table for top speeds isnt keep by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), however i know from watching the sport at the winter olympics that they have gone up to 100mph.

The Bobsled Team:

  • Driver: The most importent team member. The drivers job is to guide the sled safely down the course, as quickly as possible. Drivers must have lightning reflexes and very good hand/eye coordination. One slip could mean lost time or even a crash.
  • Brakeman: The brakemans job is to bring the sled to a stop at the end of the course. The brake is simply a metal claw that digs into the ice.
  • Pushers: All members of the 2 and 4 man teams are pushers, they are required to run very fast at the start, with enough strength to push the sled along with them. A fast start can be the difference between winning gold or missing the medals completely.
There are currently only 16 tracks around the world, listed below (ranked by number of tracks per country):

For the rules of the sport (that are much to long to list here) or more information, i suggest visiting (the FIBT website).


Please message me if you see any errors or feel i have missed something here.possible

Bob"sled` (?), Bob"sleigh` (?), n.

A short sled, mostly used as one of a pair connected by a reach or coupling; also, the compound sled so formed.

[U. S.]

The long wagon body set on bobsleds. W. D. Howells.


© Webster 1913.

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