The Bobsleigh Events in the Winter Olympics

Bobsleigh, or bobsled, is the NASCAR of the Winter Olympics. In this sport, teams of racers careen down an ice-covered track protected only by sleigh as they crash through the turns. Bobsleigh has been a part of the Winter Olympics since the first event in 1924. The fast speeds and frequent crashes make bobsledding a crowd favorite.

[Credit: Digital Vision]
Credit: Digital Vision

The sport of bobsledding originated 150 years ago in the ski village of St. Moritz in the French Alps. The first tracks were built to entertain and attract tourists, but competition soon followed. The first races were run down roads and trails around the hotel, but as competition became more formal, tracks were built and covered in snow and ice. Since those early days, the team has grown and spread throughout most northern countries.

Today’s bobsleds are designed using light-weight metals and carbon fiber and are engineered for the greatest aerodynamics. Each sled must follow rules as to the size and weight of the sled and riders. Because heavier sleds are typically faster, most teams will add as much weight to the sled as possible.

The bobsledding competition at the winter Olympics involves three events: two-man, four-man, and two-women. Four-man crews consist of a pilot, a brakeman, and 2 pushers. Two-person teams have only a pilot and brakeman.

To be competitive the riders must achieve the fastest start possible. The crew will begin standing next to the sled as they drag the sled back and forth to build up momentum before hopping in to be propelled through the course by sheer gravity.

The pilot must maintain fastest line through the various parts of the track. If they get off that line, the sled will slow. It’s all a question of timing and weight differential. Bobsleds can travel from 130 km all the way up to 201 km per hour through the tracks, which means that the danger in crashes is enormous and serious injuries and even deaths have occurred.

Each team will run through the course 4 times over the competition. The 4 run times are added together to determine the winner. Because of the speeds involved, race-times are calculated to the hundredth of seconds. So, any slowing of the sled through the course can have a devastating effect on run times.

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