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Winter Olympics: Bobsleigh

Offspring of the toboggan

by John Gettings and Christine Frantz

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It's been 18 years since the Jamaican bobsled team made its debut at the Olympics. Immortalized in the Disney movie Cool Runnings, the team has finished 29th, 34th, 14th, 21st, and 28th.

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 first 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, he or she pulls up on the brake, lowering a piece of metal into the ice to stop the sled after the run. To round out a four-man team a pair of pushers are added. They are responsible for helping to get the sled started.

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. 18–19 and the four-man on Feb. 24–25. The two-woman bobsled competition takes place Feb. 20–21. There will be two heats on each day of competition. It will be held at Cesana Pariol. This 1,435 m (4,708 ft) long run, which will host the bobsled, skeleton, and luge competitions, has 19 bends (11 left-hand and 8 right-hand) run and a drop of 114 m (274 ft) and 19 bends.

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.

For the 2006 games, 2002 gold winner Jill Bakken and silver medalist Todd Hayes will lead the U.S. bobsled teams. Other returnees include Vonetta Flowers, Garrett Hines, Mike Kohn, and Randy Jones.

After competing in five Olympics, Prince Albert of Monaco retired from Olympic bobsled competition after the 2002 Games to concentrate on running his country and serving as an International Olympic Committee member.



More about the 2006 Winter Olympics

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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