Although the sled has been around for centuries as a mode of transportation, the sport of bobsleigh didn't begin until the late 19th century when the Swiss attached a steering mechanism to a toboggan. In 1897, the world's first bobsleigh club was founded in St.Moritz,Switzerland. By 1914, bobsled races were taking place on a wide variety of natural ice courses.
The first racing sleds were made of wood but were soon replaced by steel sleds that came to be known as bobsleds. In 1923, the Fédération internationale de bobsleigh et de tobogganing (FIBT) was founded and the following year a four-man race took place at the first ever Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. A two-man event was added at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, U.S.A..
By the 1950s, however, the sport as we know it today had begun to take shape. As the critical importance of the start was recognised, strong, fast athletes in other sports were drawn to bobsledding. Track and field competitors, handballers, gymnasts and others who could deliver a vigorous push at the start were much sought after.
Italy also has a long and successful track record in the sport particularly from the mid 1950s to late 1960s.
Another stage in the evolution of the sport came in the early 1990s with the debut of women bobsledders at events in Europe and North America.
With new artificial tracks coming on stream for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan and the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, U.S.A., the sport of bobsleigh can draw on a rich history as it charts the course to a promising future.
Racers qualify for the Olympics based on how many points they accumulate in World Cup competitions. There are two-man and four-man bobsled teams. The men's competitions last two days, with each team making four runs. The team with the lowest aggregate time wins, and if two teams finish in a tie, they share the medal. Today also, women compete in the Olympics in a two-women event. The women
make two runs on the same day, with the winner decided in the same manner as in the men's competition.
Bobsleigh teams include a brakeman and a pilot in the two-man event, while two crewmen/pushers are added for the four-man race. From a standing start, the crew pushes the sled in unison for up to 50 meters. This distance is typically covered in less than six seconds and speeds of over 40 km/h are reached before the crew loads into the sled.
Although the difference in start times among the top crews is measured in tenths or even hundredths of a second, a fast start is critical. As a rule of thumb, a 1/10th of a second lead at the start translates into a 3/10ths of a second advantage by the bottom of the course. During a typical 60-second run, speeds of more than 135 km/h are reached and crews are subjected to over four times the force of gravity.