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Bobsledding is a winter sport that was developed by Englishmen in the late 1860s. Americans use the word bobsledding or bobsled, but in most of the world, it is known as “bobsleigh.” A bobsled is basically a toboggan with runners on the bottom. Bobsledding consists of teams that make runs down narrow, twisting, banked iced tracks in gravity-powered sleds. It’s an exhilarating sport of dangerous speed that relies on a precise combination of skill and physics. Although sledding had been around for a while, it was pushed up a notch in the late 1800s in Switzerland when a group of tourists put runners on a toboggan to get greater speed down the famous Cresta Run at St. Moritz. More and more British and American visitors started participating in the winter sport, and soon bobsledding competitions became a popular winter sport. In order to protect the pedestrians in the streets and alleyways of St Moritz, hotel owner Caspar Badrutt, owner of the historic Krup Hotel , built the first configured 'half-pipe' track around 1870. This track is still in use today and has been used in two Olympics.

To give one an idea of what it’s like to ride on a bobsled, imagine hitting a patch of ice while driving a car. With almost no friction between the tires and the road, the car cannot be easily steered. Any sudden moves can cause the bobsled to spin wildly out of control. Remember, the track is not straight and level either - it’s full of twists and turns and is downhill for most of the way. This is bobsledding!

Modern bobsleds combine light metals, steel runners, and an aerodynamic composite body. Competition sleighs must be a maximum of 3.80 m long (4-crew) or 2.70 m long (2-crew). The runners on both are set at 0.67 m gauge. Until the weight-limit rule was added in 1952, bobsled crews tended to be very heavy. Now, the maximum weight, including crew, is 630 kg (4-crew), 390 kg (men's two-crew), or 340 kg (women's two-crew). Metal weights may be added to reach these limits, as greater weight makes for a faster run. A crew is made up of a pilot, a brakeman, and, in four-crew only, two pushers. Athletes are selected based on speed and strength, necessary to push the sled, or sleigh, to a competitive initial speed at the start of the race. Women compete in two-crew events, and men in both two and four-crew competitions. Bobsleds can go so fast that race times are measured in hundredths of seconds, so any error can have a significant impact on the final race standings.



 


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