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Title: Bobsleigh  
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Subject: List of flag bearers for Great Britain at the Olympics, 1952 Winter Olympics, Alexandr Zubkov, Heather Moyse, Alexey Voyevoda
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A modern bobsleigh team, the 2010 United States top two-man team
Highest governing body Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing
Nicknames Bobsled, King's class
First played 1870s
Contact None
Team members Teams of 2 or 4
Mixed gender Yes, but usually in separate competitions
Type 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 people 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 Kulm Hotel and the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, also known as FIBT from the French Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing. National competitions are often governed by bodies such as the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.


The Swiss bobsleigh team from Davos, c. 1910
An East German bobsleigh in 1951, Oberhof track, Germany

Although sledding on snow or ice had been popular in many northern countries, bobsleighing as a modern sport originated relatively recently. It developed from two crestas (skeleton sleds) attached together with a board and with a steering mechanism attached to the front cresta. The sport had humble beginnings, starting when the successful marketing of hotelier Caspar Badrutt (1848–1904) enticed English tourists were to stay over the winter in the mineral spa town of St. Moritz, Switzerland. Badrutt, annoyed with the limitations of a season of a mere four months for the rooms, food, alcohol and activities he provided, successfully "sold" the idea of "winter resorting" to some of his English regulars. In the 1870s some of his more adventurous English guests began adapting boys' delivery sleds for recreation and began colliding with pedestrians while 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. Still in operation as of 2014, this has served as a host track during two Winter Olympics. As one of the few natural weather tracks in the world, it does not use artificial refrigeration. Badrutt's satisfied guests eventually enabled him to build the Badrutt's 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 took place on snow-covered roads. Formal competitions started 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 formed in 1897, and the first purpose-built track solely for bobsleds 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] gave way to streamlined fiberglass and metal ones.

The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (FIBT) was founded in 1923. Men's four-man bobsleigh appeared in the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and the men's two-man bobsleigh event was added in 1932. Though not included in the 1960 Winter Olympics, bobsleigh has featured 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 second 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 World Cup championships.

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

Bobsleighs can attain speeds of 150 km/h (93 mph), with the reported world record being 201 km/h (125 mph). However, the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation repeatedly rejected this record due to lack of documentation.


Altenberg track, Germany.

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 1,200 to 1,300 metres (3,900–4,300 ft) long and have at least fifteen curves. Speeds may exceed 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph), 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

Team USA on a wall, Shauna Rohbock (pilot) and Valerie Fleming (brakes) during their 2006 silver run on Cesana Pariol, Italy.

Modern day sleighs combine light metals, steel runners, and an aerodynamic composite body. Competition sleighs must be a maximum of 3.80 metres (12.5 ft) long (4-crew) or 2.70 metres (8.9 ft) long (2-crew). The runners on both are set at 0.67 metres (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 kilograms (1,390 lb) (4-man), 390 kilograms (860 lb) (2-man), or 340 kilograms (750 lb) (2-woman), which can be reached via the addition of metal weights. The bobsleighs themselves are designed to be as light as possible to allow dynamic positioning of mass through the turns of the bobsleigh course.[4]

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 miles per hour (130 km/h), anything larger would result in a crash. The pilot does most of the steering, and the brakeman stops the sled after crossing the finish by pulling the sled's brake lever.

Women compete in Women's Bobsleigh (which is always two-woman), and men in both two and four-man competitions.[5]


USA-1 in heat 3 of 4 man bobsleigh at 2010 Winter Olympics 2010-02-27
Vonetta Flowers (left) and Jill Bakken power up in the push zone for their 80-mile-per-hour (130 km/h) ride down the Winter Olympic bobsledding track. Bakken, the driver, and Flowers, the brakeman, won the first gold medal presented in Olympic women's bobsledding. (2002)

Individual runs down the course, or "heats", begin from a standing start, with the crew pushing the sled for up to 50 metres (160 ft) 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


Current Olympic champion: 1st  Russia (RUS) 2nd  Latvia (LAT) 3rd  United States (USA)

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 Russia 1 1 0 2
7 Canada 1 0 1 2
8 Great Britain 0 1 2 3
9 Belgium 0 1 1 2
10 France 0 0 1 1
11 Soviet Union 0 0 1 1
Total 20 20 21 61

Two man

Current Olympic champion: 1st  Russia (RUS) 2nd  Switzerland (SUI) 3rd  United States (USA)

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 Russia 1 0 1 2
6 Soviet Union 1 0 1 2
7 Great Britain 1 0 0 1
8 Romania 0 0 1 1
Total 19 17 18 54

Two woman

Current Olympic champion: 1st  Canada (CAN) 2nd  United States (USA)-1 3rd  United States (USA)-2

Rank Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
2 Germany 1 1 1 3
2 United States 1 1 1 3
1 Canada 2 1 0 3
3 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
Karl Gerloff 1933 Oberhof Practice run 4-man sled
Rudolf Gerloff 1933 Oberhof Practice run 4-man sled
Reto Capadrutt 1939 Cortina d'Ampezzo Practice run World Championships 1939 4-man sled
Max Houben 1949 Lake Placid Shady corner Practice run World Championships 1949 2-man sled
Felix Endrich 1953 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Bayernkurve Practice run World Championships 1953 4-man sled
Sergio Zardini 1966 Lake Placid Zig-Zag Curves Practice run 4-man sled
Toni Pensperger 1966 Cortina d'Ampezzo Practice run World Championships 1966 4-man sled
Josef Schnellneger 1970 Königssee Practice run Austria-Cup 2-man sled
Luis Lopez 1971 Cervinia Practice run World Championships 1971 2-man sled
Giuseppe Soravia[6] 1980 Igls Finish Practice run 4-man sled
[6] 1981 Cortina d'Ampezzo Finish Practice run World Championships 1981 4-man sled
Imants Karlsons[6] 1982 Igls Training session Training 2-man sled
Daniel Oaida[6] 1989 Altenberg Curve 4 Training session Training 4-man sled
41 Peter Förster 1990 Altenberg Finish Training session Training 2-man sled
42 Yvonne Cernota[7][8] 2004 Königssee Echowand Training session Training 2-man sled

See also


  1. ^ "bobsledding (sport) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  2. ^ "Rounding The Zigzag Turn Of A Bobsleigh Run", April 1932, Popular Science photo of wooden bobsleigh used in early 1930s
  3. ^ Udo Gurgel
  4. ^ Niller, Eric (4 February 2014). "U.S. Olympic Team Gets BMW Bobsleds".  
  5. ^ "FIBT the international home of Bobsleigh and Skeleton Sports". Retrieved 3 February 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d articleHamburger Abendblatt, accessed December 2010
  7. ^ "Yvonne Cernota crashes during training run". (German)
  8. ^ "Cernota killed in training accident". CBC News. 2004-03-12.  (German)

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