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Title: Bobsled  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Winter sport, Davos, Sled, List of Brazilian sportspeople, Geoff Bodine, Toboggan, Winter Olympics (video game), Salt Lake 2002 (video game), Dixie State University, Winter Games
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governing body Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing
Nickname(s) Bobsled, King's class
First played 1870s
Contact None
Team members Teams of 2 or 4
Mixed gender Yes, but usually in separate competitions
Categorization Winter sport, Time trial
Equipment High-tech sled, Helmet
Venue Bobsleigh tracks

Bobsleigh or bobsled is a winter sport in which teams of two or four make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled. The timed runs are combined to calculate the final score.

The various types of sleds came several years before the first tracks were built in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where the original bobsleds were adapted upsized luge/skeleton sleds designed by the adventurously wealthy to carry passengers. All three types were adapted from boys delivery sleds and toboggans.

Competition naturally followed, and to protect the working class and rich visitors in the streets and byways of St Moritz, bobsledding was eventually banned from the public highway. In the winter of 1903/1904 the Badrutt family, owners of the historic KulmHotel and the Palace Hotel, allowed Emil Thoma to organise the construction of the first familiarly configured 'half-pipe' track in the Kulm Hotel Park, ending in the village of Cresta. It has hosted the sport during two Olympics and is still in use today.

International bobsleigh competitions are governed by the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT). National competitions are often governed by bodies such as the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.


Although sledding on snow or ice had been popular in many northern countries, bobsleighing is a relatively modern sport. It originates from two crestas (skeleton sleds) being attached together with a board and a steering mechanism being attached to the front cresta. The beginnings of the Bobsleigh were humble, starting when English tourists were enticed to stay over the winter in the mineral spa town of St. Moritz, Switzerland by the successful marketing of hotelier Caspar Badrutt. Badrutt successfully 'sold' the idea of 'winter resorting' to some of his English regulars as he was annoyed with a four month long season for the rooms, food, alcohol and activities he sold. A year or two later some of his more adventurous English guests began adapting boys' delivery sleds for recreation and began colliding with pedestrians whilst speeding down the village's lanes, alleys and roads.

The name of the sport appeared when competitors adopted the technique of bobbing back and forth inside the sled to increase its speed.[1]

This had both short and long term outcomes: in the short term the guests began to scheme about and invent 'steering means' for the sleds, which became the luge, bobsleighs (bobsleds), and head-first skeleton. Long term, after a couple of more years of happy pedestrian peril, Badrutt built a special track for their activities—the world's first natural ice half-pipe track in about 1870. It is still in operation today and has served as a host track during two Winter Olympics. The track is one of the few natural weather tracks in the world - it does not use artificial refrigeration. The satisfied guests eventually enabled him to build the Palace Hotel, while holding onto the popular Krup Hotel (which catered to different clientele) and brought competition in as winter tourism in alpine locales became very popular.

The first informal races were run on snow-covered roads. The opening of formal competition was in 1884 at St. Moritz. It's not known how much the original track evolved in the early years as the three sports matured and stabilized. The first club was formed in 1897, and the first purpose-built track solely for bobsleds was opened in 1902 outside of St Moritz. Over the years, bobsleigh tracks evolved from straight runs to twisting and turning tracks. The original wooden sleds[2] were replaced by streamlined fiberglass and metal ones.

The Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was founded in 1923. Men's four man bobsleigh appeared in the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and men's two man bobsleigh event was added in 1932. Bobsleigh was not included in the 1960 Winter Olympics, but has been in every Winter Olympics since. Women's bobsleigh competition began in the US in 1983 with two demonstration races in Lake Placid, New York, one held in February and the 2nd held during the World Cup races in March 1983. Women's two woman bobsleigh made its Olympic debut at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Bobsleigh is also contested at American, European, and the underworld and World Cup championships.

Switzerland and Germany have been the most successful bobsleighing nations measured by overall success in European, World, World Cup, and Olympic championships. The Swiss have won more medals than any other nation, and since the 1990s Germans have been dominant in international competition. Italy, Austria, USA and Canada also have strong bobsleigh traditions.

Bobsleighs can attain speeds of 150 km/h (93 mph). The record however is 201 km/h (125 mph). A record the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation repeatedly rejected as valid due to lack of documentation that still need to be presented.


Modern tracks are made of concrete, coated with ice. They are required to have at least one straight section and one labyrinth (three turns in quick succession without a straight section). Ideally, a modern track should be 1200 to 1300 meters long and have at least fifteen curves. Speeds may exceed 120 km/h, and some curves can subject the crews to as much as 5 g.

Some bobsleigh tracks are also used for luge and skeleton competition.

Some tracks offer tourists rides in bobsleighs, including those at Sigulda, Latvia; Innsbruck-Igls, Austria; Calgary, Canada; Whistler, Canada; Lillehammer, Norway; Cesana Pariol, Italy; Lake Placid, USA; Salt Lake City, USA and La Plagne, France.

The most famous of all the turns is the 'Petersen'. The Petersen is renowned for its trademark 180 degree turn and 270 degree bank angle, which is a compulsory feature on all Winter Olympic runs. The Petersen is named after the pioneer track designer Heidi Petersen.

All modern artificial iced tracks were designed by Udo Gurgel.[3]

Sleighs and crews

Modern day sleighs combine light metals, steel runners, and an aerodynamic composite body. Competition sleighs must be a maximum of 3.80 m (12.5 ft) long (4-crew) or 2.70 m (8.9 ft) long (2-crew). The runners on both are set at 0.67 m (2.2 ft) gauge. Until the weight-limit rule was added in 1952, bobsleigh crews tended to be very heavy to ensure the greatest possible speed. Now, the maximum weight, including crew, is 630 kg (1,388.9 lbs) (4-man), 390 kg (859.8 lbs) (2-man), or 340 kg (749.6 lbs) (2-woman), which can be reached via the addition of metal weights.

Bobsleigh crews once consisted of five or six people, but were reduced to two- and four-person sleighs in the 1930s. A crew is made up of a pilot, a brakeman, and, only in 4-man heats, two pushers. Athletes are selected based on their speed and strength, which are necessary to push the sleigh to a competitive speed at the start of the race. Pilots must have the skill, timing, and finesse to steer the sleigh along the path, or, 'line', that will produce the greatest speed.

In modern bobsleighs, the steering system consists of two metal rings that actuate a pulley system located in the forward cowling that turns the front runners. For example, to turn left, the pilot would pull the left ring. Only subtle steering adjustments are necessary to guide the sled; at speeds up to 80 mph, anything larger would result in a crash. While the pilot does most of the steering, and, by pulling the sled's brake lever, the brakeman stops the sled after crossing the finish.

Women compete in Women's Bobsleigh (which is always two-woman), and men in both two and four-man competitions.[4]


Individual runs down the course, or "heats", begin from a standing start, with the crew pushing the sled for up to 50 meters before boarding; though the pilot does not steer, grooves in the ice make steering unnecessary until the sled leaves the starting area. While poor form during the initial push can lose a team the heat, it is otherwise rarely if ever, decisive. Over the rest of the course, a sleigh's speed depends on its weight, aerodynamics, runners, the condition of the ice, and the skill of the pilot.

Race times are recorded in hundredths of seconds, so even seemingly minor errors- especially those at the beginning, which affect the remainder of the heat- can have a measurable impact on the final race standings.

The men's and women's standings for normal races are calculated over the aggregate of two runs or heats. At the Olympic Winter Games and World Championships, all competitions (for both men and women) consist of four heats.

Olympic Medal table

Four man

Current Olympic champion: Canada (CAN)

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Germany 8 4 6 18
2 Switzerland 5 5 5 15
3 United States 4 4 3 11
4 Italy 1 2 1 4
5 Austria 1 2 0 3
6 Canada 1 0 1 2
7 Great Britain 0 1 2 3
8 Belgium 0 1 1 2
9 Russia 0 1 0 1
10 France 0 0 1 1
10 Soviet Union 0 0 1 1
Total 20 20 21 61

Two man

Current Olympic champion: Russia (RUS)

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Germany 7 8 4 19
2 Switzerland 4 5 6 15
3 Italy 3 2 2 7
4 United States 2 1 3 6
5 Canada 1 1 0 2
6 Soviet Union 1 0 1 2
7 Great Britain 1 0 0 1
8 Romania 0 0 1 1
8 Russia 0 0 1 1
Total 19 17 18 54

Two woman

Current Olympic champion: United States (USA)

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Germany 1 1 1 3
1 United States 1 1 1 3
3 Canada 1 1 0 2
4 Italy 0 0 1 1
Total 3 3 3 9

Total Olympic Ranking (2010)

 Rank  Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1  Germany 16 13 11 40
2 Switzerland 9 10 11 30
3 United States 7 6 7 20
4 Italy 4 4 4 12
5 Canada 3 2 1 6
6 Austria 1 2 0 3
7 Great Britain 1 1 2 4
8 Soviet Union 1 0 2 3
9 Belgium 0 1 1 2
9 Russia 0 1 1 2
11 France 0 0 1 1
11 Romania 0 0 1 1
Total 42 40 41 123

Fatal accidents

No Competitor Year Track Section Race Event Vehicle
Oberüberl 1911 Practice run 5-man sled
Germany Karl Gerloff 1933 Germany Oberhof Practice run 4-man sled
Germany Rudolf Gerloff 1933 Germany Oberhof Practice run 4-man sled
Switzerland Reto Capadrutt 1939 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo Practice run World Championships 1939 4-man sled
Belgium Max Houben 1949 United States Lake Placid Shady corner Practice run World Championships 1949 2-man sled
Switzerland Felix Endrich 1953 Germany Garmisch-Partenkirchen Bayernkurve Practice run World Championships 1953 4-man sled
Italy Sergio Zardini 1966 United States Lake Placid Zig-Zag Curves Practice run 4-man sled
Germany Toni Pensperger 1966 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo Practice run World Championships 1966 4-man sled
Austria Josef Schnellneger 1970 Germany Königssee Practice run Austria-Cup 2-man sled
Spain Luis Lopez 1971 Italy Cervinia Practice run World Championships 1971 2-man sled
Italy Giuseppe Soravia[5] 1980 Austria Igls Finish Practice run 4-man sled
United States James Morgan[5] 1981 Italy Cortina d'Ampezzo Finish Practice run World Championships 1981 4-man sled
Soviet Union Imants Karlsons[5] 1982 Austria Igls Training session Training 2-man sled
Romania Daniel Oaida[5] 1989 Germany Altenberg Curve 4 Training session Training 4-man sled
41 Germany Peter Förster 1990 Germany Altenberg Finish Training session Training 2-man sled
42 Germany Yvonne Cernota[6][7] 2004 Germany Königssee Echowand Training session Training 2-man sled

See also

Sports and games portal


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