Bobsleigh is a winter sledding sport in which two or four-person crew rides a bobsleigh on ice tracks. This sport was invented in the late 19th century when a steering mechanism was attached to a toboggan. In 1897, the first bobsled club was founded in St. Moritz, Switzerland after which the sport became popular in Europe’s leading alpine resorts.
The sport got its name when some of the competitors used the technique of bobbing back and forth inside the sledge to increase its speed. Bobsledding is a part of the Winter Olympics. The global governing body of bobsledding is IBSF, originally known by its French name Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT).
To win the race by reaching the finish line in the minimum time possible in a total of two/four runs (heats) as the team with lowest aggregate time wins.
The story behind the origin of Bobsleigh is quite interesting. Caspar Badrutt, a hotelier of the mid-1800s, decided to attract his visitors for winters stay at his hotel in the mineral spa town, Switzerland. Soon the hotel became famous for its winter resorting, and Badrutt was content with it.
In the 1870s, some of the visitors tried the sledges of delivery boys for recreational purposes and found it quite adventurous but risky because of difficulty in stopping the sledge but they soon invented gripping steering means, and hence, bobsleigh came into existence. The original structure of the first bobsleigh was built with two Cresta's (skeleton sledges) combined with a board having steering means attached in the front of the structure.
The steering mechanism of the bobsleigh gave the structure high velocity to go through long runs and more probabilities of accidents. Therefore, on finding the situation worse, Badrutt decided to build an ice run, recognised as the world's first natural ice half-pipe track.
Formal bobsleigh competition began in 1884 on the Cresta Run in Switzerland which is famous for hosting two Olympic bobsleigh events. The four-man bobsleigh appeared in the Winter Olympics for the first time in 1924.
Crews of two or four racers compete by riding the bobsled at the fastest speed possible for them. A bobsleigh crew consists of a pilot, a brakeman and two pushers (only in the four-man event).,
A crew of two men including a driver and a brakeman.
A crew of two women including a driver and a brakeman.
A crew of four men including a driver, two pushers and a brakeman.
The bobsleigh clothing or bodysuit has a streamlined look. The brakeman wears a Kevlar vest to avoid burn injuries. This unrestrictive suit is also used in skiing, skeleton, and luge.
Bobsleigh gloves are made up of soft, thin leather for enhanced gripping. The grain and pores present in the gloves are added to amplify a unique feature to assist a firm grip while steering or pushing the sled. The gloves are soft and have a firm fitting. However, the fitting doesn't interfere with the movement of hands.
Bobsleigh helmets are an essential piece of equipment. The helmets act as a safety guard for the head, neck and face.
The bobsleigh shoes are manufactured of synthetic materials. In each shoe, reflective markers are adjoined at the front and middle. While a bobsleigh run, the foot tends to bend. If the shoe doesn’t support this bending, then the speed of the bobsledder can get affected.
The sleigh used in bobsleigh is manufactured to have high speed and efficiency. The equipment should be strong as two or more athletes climb and travel at almost 135 km/hr speed, encountering 5G force in some turns.
Bobsled races take place on artificial ice tracks which are also used for the skeleton and luge races. These tracks are constructed with reinforced concrete and covered with layers of ice and are artificially refrigerated to cool the track down before the competitions except the track in St. Moritz, Switzerland which is naturally refrigerated. The artificial tracks are specially created with curved banks and sidewalls. These tracks are very smooth.
Bobsleigh tracks must have at least one straightaway and one labyrinth which is a section having three quick turns in succession. The tracks are usually 1200-1300 m long with at least 15 curves. Bobsleighs can attain speeds of around 150 km/h.
The team runs down the track pushing the sleigh for up to 50m to give it the speed needed for the run. After this, the driver/pilot jumps into the sledge followed by two pushers in a four-man sledge and the brakeman boards into the sledge always at last. The boarding of the crew inside the sledge must be done quickly. If any of the crew members fail to land into the sledge, the whole crew gets disqualified.
The crew members except the driver sit with their heads down to reduce wind resistance, and the driver controls the left and right movement of the sleighs. The brakeman pulls the brake handle to stop the sledge after crossing the finish line.
The maximum combined weight of the sledge and the four-man crew is 630kg, for the 2-man crew it is 390kg, and for the 2-woman crew, it is 340kg which can be reached by adding the metal weights inside the sledge.
All the members of the crew must be inside the sleigh at the time of crossing the finish line. Otherwise, the whole crew gets disqualified for the game.