What is Bobsleigh?
Bobsleigh, also called bobsled, is a team winter sport that has teams being timed as they ride down narrow and twisting iced tracks in a sleigh. The bobsleigh sleds carry either two people or four people. Bobsleigh is most popular around the world, during the Winter Olympics. Germany and Switzerland dominate the bobsleigh world in all three events (two-women, two-men, four-men). The United States of America are a solid team. The Jamicain team had a great story in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
Bobsledding developed into a sport in the 1880s in both New York and the Swiss Alps. The first organized competition was held in 1898 in Switzerland. The teams consisted of three men and two women each. The name of the sport came from competitors bobbing back and forth, in sync, to increase the speed of their sleighs.
Bobsleighing was first recognized internationally as a sport in 1923 and it became an Olympic sport the following year in Chamonix, France. Bobsledding has had world championships every year since 1931, except for during World War II. International competition for women did not begin until the 1990s and the women’s two-person bobsledding event first was in the Olympics in 2002.
The slopes used in international competitions are between 1,200 meters and 1,600 meters with a slope between 8 and 15 percent. There tend to be 15 to 20 turns per course.
Early bobsleds were mostly made of wood. Steel sleighs were adopted by the middle of the 20th century and steel and aluminum sleighs have been used ever since.
As bobsledding began to take off in the 1930s, the United States were a powerful force due to innovative sleigh designs. Since the 1960s, Germany and Switzerland have dominated international competition.
There are 18 bobsleigh runs across the world and 16 of them have been International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) approved. The IBSF regulates the length, the curves, the turns, the vertical drop, and more of the courses. They aim to make the race tracks safe yet challenging and competitive. Only one course in the world uses all natural snow and ice. That track is located in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
At the top of each track there is a straight-away to allow the racers to begin their run and push-off before the hop in the sleigh. The push-off and beginning of the race is instrumental to doing well in competition.
Bobsleigh is a sport very dependent on its equipment. The equipment helps to make sure the athletes are safe and secure and essentially is a huge part of success (when considering the sleigh).
The pilot of a team sits in the front of the sleigh and steers it. The brakeman sits in the back of the sleigh and uses the brakes when deemed necessary. In a four-person sleigh, the middle two athletes are pushers who add force and weight, resulting in quicker speeds down the race track.
- Sleigh: A steel frame, a fiberglass body that is closed at front and open in the back, a moveable set of steel legs at the front of the sleigh, a fixed set of steel legs at the rear of the sleigh, collapsible push-bars for drivers and pushers, a fixed push-bar for the brakeman, a metal brake used after the finish line is crossed, and a steering system.
- Shoes: Made of synthetic material, designed to help with traction when pushing the sleigh and are very light and are spiked.
- Push Handles: Used to push the sleigh at the beginning of a race, on the sides of a sleigh.
- Helmets: Helmets are a must for the athletes to have some form of safety as they zip down an icy course at fast speeds and sometimes crash. Some helmets have an attached visor to provide protection to athletes eyes.
Either two or four athletes are on a team together, depending on the event (two-person or four-person bobsleigh). The athletes start at the top of an icy race track that twists and turns down about 1.5kilometers. The athletes start by pushing their sleigh and then hopping in it after they have gained speed and start to go down the slope. The teams are timed and the times are compared to other teams racing down the same icy race track.
Position Roles and Responsibilities
The beginning of the race is also crucial to success, as the athletes must push the sleigh with quick, strong force to get off to a great start. The pilot has to be able to steer the sled with precision to avoid crashes and stay fast. The brakeman must also know when to brake to avoid losing speed, but also to stay upright.
In two-person bobsleigh, there is a pilot and a brakeman. Both start pushing the sleigh together, for about six seconds, and then they hop in the sleigh together. The pilot steers the sleigh, attempting to find the ‘line’ of staying upright in the sleigh while getting down the race track very quickly. The pilot sits in the front of the sleigh. The brakeman applies brakes to the sleigh to avoid crashing and tipping over, as the team attempts to stay upright as they zoom down the race track. The brakeman sits in the back of the sleigh.
In four-person bobsleigh, the pilot is still the athlete in the front of the sleigh and steers the sleigh. The brakeman is still the athlete in the back of the sleigh, using the brakes of the sleigh. The two other athletes sit in the middle of the sleigh. They are called pushers and they help push the sleigh at the beginning of the race. The pushers add force and weight to increase the speed of the sleigh throughout the entire race. They also bob with twists and turns of the icy race track and their sleigh, to hold momentum.
Rules and Regulations
Below are the main rules and regulations of bobsleigh that keep the sport safe and competitive.
Race Weight: The combined weight of the athletes and their sleigh must not exceed: Two-Man Race: 390kg (860 pounds), Four-Man Race: 630kg (1,389 pounds), Two-Woman Race: 340kg (750 pounds)
Athlete Safety: All athletes must wear helmets, eye protection, uniforms, spiked shoes, and Kevlar vests (for brakemen to prevent friction) for their safety.
Race Track Regulations: Race Tracks must be regulated by the IBSF to hold international competition. Race Tracks must be between 1,200 and 1,600 meters in length. Race Tracks must be designed at an elevated level that slopes downhill, dropping from 110 meters to 125 meters.
Referees and Officials
Bobsleigh officials have the job of making sure the race tracks are under regulation and ready to hold safe competition. They also make sure that teams are following equipment and weight rules. Bobsleigh officials make sure the start and finish areas are run smoothly and safe for teams to compete in. They also track times, with assistance, of each team and declare the winners of the event.
Lingo and Terminology
Below is commonly used lingo and terminology in the sport of bobsleigh.
- Articulation: The joint connecting the front part of a sleigh to the rear section of a sleigh.
- Ballast: A weight attached to a sleigh to ensure that each bobsleigh in competition is at equal weight.
- D-Rings: D-shaped handles used to steer a bobsleigh.
- Grooves: Channels that are cut into the ice at the starting area; allows the sleigh to follow a straight line during a push start.
- Labyrinth: A series of at least three curves, with little or no straight shots in between them.
- Omega: A set of three big curves that are connected. From above, their shape resembles the Greek letter Omega.
- Pod: Middle area of a bobsleigh where the pushers and brakemen sit.
- Roof: The top part of a track curve.
- S-Curve: Two connected turns that travel in alternate directions.
- Transition: An area of a race track that goes from a straight shot into a curve.
Below are some of the top bobsleigh leagues across the world. The most competition is definitely with the IBSF and international competition at the yearly World Championships and the Winter Olympics.
- International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation
- United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation
- Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton
- German Bobsleigh, Luge, and Skeleton Federation
What is bobsleigh?
Bobsleighing is a very high-speed sport in which the fastest bobsleigh to cross the finish line is the winner. Each sled travels along curvy, iced tracks. At the beginning of the race, which is vital to a team’s success, team members will run alongside the sled until it picks up speed, which is when they hop into the bobsleigh. A four-person bobsleigh can reach speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. The two-person bobsleigh runs somewhat slower but still achieves a high speed.
Is bobsleigh an official sport?
Yes, bobsleigh became an official sport in 1923. There are Bobsleigh World Championships held every year along with many other tournaments. Bobsleigh is also a Winter Olympic sport.
What are the different types of bobsleigh?
There are two different types of bobsleigh. The two-person boblet (as it’s called in Europe) is a team of two athletes in a sleigh. The four-person bobsleigh works the exact same, except there are four athletes in a sleigh, so the weight requirements and limits are different. The two-person boblet limits team and sled combined weights to 390 kg (860 pounds). The four-person bobsleigh limits team and sled combined weights to 630 kg (1,389 pounds). The maximum team and sled combined weight for the two-women competition is 340 kg (750 pounds).