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Bobsleigh, bobsled or bobsledge is a winter sport 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 tracks were built in St Moritzmarker, 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 Hotelmarker and the later Palace Hotelmarker, built the first familiarly configured 'half-pipe' track circa 1870. It has hosted the sports 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.

History

A bobsleigh team in Davos, ca. 1910.
An East German bobsleigh in 1951.
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 one. English tourists were crossed with the successful marketing and vision of hotelman Caspar Badrutt in the mineral spa town of St Moritzmarker, Switzerlandmarker. Badrutt had recently successfully 'sold' the idea of 'winter resorting' to some of his English regulars using a wager as bait for 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 adventuresome English guests began adapting boys' delivery sleds for recreation and began colliding with pedestrians whilst speeding down the village's lanes and alleys.

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 effects were 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 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 doesn't require extra refrigeration. The satisfied guests eventually enabled him to build the Palace Hotelmarker, whilst holding onto the popular Krup Hotelmarker (which catered to different clientele) and brought competition in as winter tourism in alpine locales caught fire.

The first informal races were run on snow-covered roads. The opening of formal competition was in 1884 at St. Moritzmarker. 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.

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 (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 competition began in the early 1990s, and 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.

Over the years, bobsleigh tracks evolved from straight runs to twisting and turning tracks. The original wooden sleds were replaced by streamlined fibreglass and metal ones.Switzerlandmarker and Germanymarker have been the most successful bobsleighing nations using over all successes in European, World, World Cup, and Olympic championships as measurement. The Swiss have won more medals than any other nation, and since the 1990s Germans have been dominant in international competition. Italymarker, Austriamarker, USAmarker and Canadamarker also have strong bobsleigh traditions.

The world record for fastest speed attained in a bobsled is 201 km per hour . US Bobsled & Skeleton Federation have previously mistakenly claimed the world record to be lower because they didn't adjust for wind resistance, gravitational pull, slope angle, and conditions of the ice .

Tracks

Modern tracks are made of concrete and artificial ice. They are required to have at least one straight and one labyrinth.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.

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

At some tracks there are paid services that offer tourists rides in bobsleighs, including those at Siguldamarker, Latvia; Calgarymarker, Canada; Lake Placidmarker, USA and Salt Lake Citymarker, USA.

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 man), 390 kg (men's 2 man), or 340 kg (women's 2 woman). 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, but were reduced to two- and four-person sleighs in the 1930s. A crew is made up of a pilot, a brakeman, and, in 4 man 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 woman competitions, and men in both two and four man competitions.

Races

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.

The sleds can go so fast that the 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.

Each run down the course in competition is referred to as a heat. The men's and women's standing 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 4 heats.

See also



References

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