Winter Olympics: Bobsleigh
Offspring of the toboggan
by John Gettings and Christine Frantz
An offspring of tobogganing, the modern-day sport of bobsledding was conceived in Switzerland late in the 1800s.
The bobsled's Olympic debut was the four-man event at the 1924 Winter Games. The two-man event was added eight years later in 1932. The only women's bobsled event—the two-woman bobsled—was held for the first time in 2002.
Each nation may enter a maximum of two sleds in each event. The sleds are made of fiberglass and must adhere to strict size and weight restrictions. A driver steers the sled by pulling one rope with his right hand to go right or a separate rope with his left hand to go left.
The second member of the two-person team is the brakeman. Always the last person in the sled, the brakeman pulls up on the brake, lowering a piece of metal into the ice to stop the sled after the run. A pair of pushers, responsible for helping get the sled started, rounds out the four-man team.
The sleds rip down the icy track one at a time, reaching speeds of up to 90 mph. The team with the lowest aggregate time after the two runs wins the gold.
The men's two-man competition will be held Feb. 20–21 and the four-man on Feb. 26–27. The women's bobsled competition takes place Feb. 23–24. There will be two heats on each day of competition. It will be held at the Whistler Sliding Center, one of only 15 sliding tracks in the world. This 1,450 m (4,757 ft) long run, which will host the bobsled, skeleton, and luge competitions, boasts a speed track record of 153.98 km/h (95.68 mph) set by Germany's Felix Loch February 21, 2009.
The 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics were good to U.S. bobsledding. The two-woman team took home the gold in the inaugural women's competition, and the four-man teams grabbed the silver and bronze. Prior to Salt Lake, the United States had not medaled in bobsledding since the 1956 Winter Games.
In the 2006 Games, the U.S. women's team of Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming took silver.
Vancouver 2010 looks promising for the four-man American team, nicknamed "Night Train," and piloted by Steven Holcomb. Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler, and Curtis Tomasevicz will be sliding into Vancouver fresh from a second consecutive World Cup victory.
More about the 2010 Winter Olympics