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Historic bobteam from Davos around 1910
Historic bobteam from Davos around 1910
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Bobsleigh is a winter sport invented by Englishmen in the late 1860s in which teams make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled. The various types of sleds came several years before the first track was built in St Moritz, 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, hotel owner Caspar Badrutt, owner of the historic Krup Hotel and the later Palace Hotel built the first familiarly configured 'half-pipe' track circa 1870. It has hosted the sports during two olympics, and is still in use today. In the United States and Canada the sport is known as bobsled. [citation needed]

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.


The Luge, Skeleton, and Bobsled all originated in the mid-late nineteenth century as an indirect result of boredom by the well-to-do English tourists crossed with the successful marketing and vision of hotelman Caspar Badrutt in the mineral spa town of St Moritz, Switzerland. Badrutt had recently successfully 'sold' the idea of 'winter resorting' to some of his English regulars using a wager as bait; he was annoyed with a four month long season for the rooms, food, booze and activities he sold; when a year or two later some of his more adventuresome English guests began adapting boys delivery sleds for recreation, they also began colliding with pedestrians whilst speeding down the village's lanes and alleys. [citation needed]

This had both short- and long-term outcomes: in the short term the guests began to scheme about and invent 'steering means' into the sleds, which becme the the head-first skeleton, luge, and bobsleighs (Bobsleds). As for the longterm effects, after a couple more years of happy pedestrian peril, Badrutt built them a special track for their activities—the world's first natural ice half-pipe 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 undependent upon extra refrigeration. The satisfied guests eventually enabled him to build the Palace Hotel, whilst holding onto the popular Krup Hotel, which catered to different clientelle, and brought in competition as winter tourism in alpine locales caught fire.[citation needed]

The first informal races were run on snow-covered roads, with the opening of formal competition 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 stabalized. The first club was formed in 1897, and the first purpose-built track solely for bobsleds was opened in 1902 outside of St Moritz.[citation needed]

The Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was founded in 1923. Men's four-crew bobsleigh appeared in the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and men's two-crew bobsleigh (two man bobsled) 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 started in competition in the early 1990s, and women's two-crew bobsleigh made its Olympic debut at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Bobsleigh is also contested at World, European, and World Cup championships.

Switzerland and Germany have been the most successful bobsleighing nations measuring using over all successes 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 and Canada also have strong bobsleigh traditions.


A modern bobsleigh team
A modern bobsleigh team

Ideally, a modern track should be 1200 to 1300 metres long and have at least fifteen curves. Speeds may exceed 130 km/h, and some curves can subject the crews to as much as 5 g.

There are thirteen top-level competition tracks in the world:

Average grade

Bobsleigh tracks are also used for luge and skeleton competition.

Sleighs and crews

Modern sleighs combine light metals, steel runners, and an aerodynamic composite body. Competition sleighs must be a maximum of 3.80 m long (4-crew) or 2.70 m long (2-crew). The runners on both are set at 0.67 m gauge. Until the weight-limit rule was added in 1952, bobsleigh crews tended to be very heavy. Now, the maximum weight, including crew, is 630 kg (4-crew), 390 kg (men's 2-crew), or 340 kg (women's 2-crew). Metal weights may be added to reach these limits, as greater weight makes for a faster run.

Bobsleigh crews once consisted of five or six people; they were reduced to two- and four-person sleighs in the 1930s. A crew is made up of a pilot, a brakeman, and, in 4-crew only, two pushers. Athletes are selected based on speed and strength, necessary to push the sleigh to a competitive initial speed at the start of the race. Pilots must have the skill, timing and finesse to drive the sleigh along the best possible line to achieve the greatest possible speed.

Women compete in two-crew events, and men in both two- and four-crew competition.


Runs (lauf) begin from a standing start, with the crew pushing the sled for up to fifty metres before boarding. The runners of the sled follow grooves in the ice for this distance, so steering is unnecessary until after the sleigh exits the starting area. Races can be lost in the initial push but are rarely won there. Over the rest of the course, the sleigh's speed depends on its weight, aerodynamics, and runners; the condition of the ice; and the skill of the driver.

Race times are measured in hundredths of seconds, so any error can have a significant impact on the final race standings. Even small errors make for small decreases in speed and commensurate increases in time. Because any decrease in speed affects the sleigh for the remainder of the course, errors made high on the track will have a greater effect than those made closer to the finish.

The men's and women's standing are calculated over the aggregate of two runs. At the Olympic Winter Games and World Championships, all competitions (for either men or women) consist of 4 heats.

See also

  • Bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics
  • Luge
  • Skeleton
  • Toboggan
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • SpVgg Unterhaching, a German bobsleigh club (with records of Christoph Langen).
  • Cool Runnings, the film inspired by the story of the Jamaican Bobsled Team in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.

External links

Governing bodies

  • Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing, the world governing body.
  • Bobsleigh CANADA Skeleton, the national governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in Canada.
  • Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation, the national governing body for the sport of bobsled in Jamaica.
  • United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, the national governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in the United States.

National sites

  • Bobslejs LV, Latvia.
  • Australian Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, Australia's national team.
  • Österreichischer Bob- und Skeletonverband, Austria.
  • Confederação Brasileira de Desportos no Gelo, Brazil.
  • Bob- und Schlittenverband für Deutschland, Germany.
  • British Bobsleigh Association, Great Britain.
  • Bobsleebond Nederland, Holland.
  • Israeli Bobsled Team, Israel.
  • BobItalia, Italy.
  • Norges Ake-, Bob- og Skeletonforbund, Norway.
  • Schweitzerischer Bobsleigh-, Schlitten- und Skeleton-Sportverband, Switzerland.

Other sites

  • 2006 U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team bios
  • Official site of BobTeam USA The official site of US national team member Steven Holcomb and BobTeam USA
  • Calgary Bobsled Club, providing access to the track at Canada Olympic Park.
  • Alberta Bobsleigh, provincial team in Alberta, Canada.
  • Bobsledding Topics
  • Steel and Ice Project, Women's Bobsleigh Portal - providing information on Women's Bobsleigh.
  • Statistics
  • Jamaica Bobsled-Olympic History
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