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Gateway to the Summer Games - Spotlight Sports Griffin Publishing Group

The bobsled was developed in Switzerland in 1897 when a group of vacationers put runners on a toboggan to get greater speed down the famous Cresta Run at St. Moritz. The sport of racing bobsleds down the mountain quickly became popular among British and American visitors. The first sleds were made of wood but were soon replaced by steel sleds, which were much faster. A part of the Winter Olympic games since their inception in 1924, bobsledding is a sport of exhilarating but dangerous speed.

The first organized competition in the sport was held on the Cresta Run on January 5, 1898, with five-passenger sleds with two of the passengers being women. For better steering, they were equipped with four runners, positioned on axles much like the four wheels of a car. With the new design, speeds on the mountainside became dangerously fast, so an artificial bobsled run with a gentler slope was built at St. Moritz in 1902.

Bobsledding spread rapidly to other Alpine countries. By 1914, when the first European championships took place at St. Moritz, there were more than a hundred bobsled runs in Europe.

The Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et Tobagganning (FIBT) was founded in 1923 to establish rules so that the sport could be included in the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix, France, in 1924. Only four-man sleds raced there. A five-man competition replaced the four-man in 1928, but the four-man returned in 1932 (Lake Placid) and has been on the program ever since.

Interesting Facts
  • The name "bobsledding" came from early racers bobbing their heads backwards and forwards. It didn't work, but the name stayed with the sport.
  • Bobsleigh and bobsledding are both correct names for the large sled made up of two sections linked together. The frame is made of metal, the shell of fiberglass or similar material. There are two sizes, two-man and four-man.
  • Until the 1950s, U. S. bobsledders were the best in the world, in part because of technological innovations. Bob and Bill Linney in the late 1930s built a two-man sled with a steel plank as the linkage. The plank's flexibility allowed much greater speed through turns.
  • Olympic bobsledding competitions include two-man and four-man.
  • In the Olympics and other major competitions, the bobsled run is at least 1,500 meters (about 1,640 yards) long and it has about 15 or 20 turns. The average slope ranges between 8 and 15 percent.
To Learn More About Bobsledding
Other Winter Olympic Sports

Alpine Skiing


Figure Skating

Ice Hockey


Ski Jumping

Speed Skating


General Sports Links
Olympians will compete in dozens of sports this winter. Even though Gateway to the Winter Games can't feature them all, you can learn about each and every one by visiting the sites listed below.

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