Winter Olympics: Bobsleigh

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
2014 Winter Olympics

Offspring of the toboggan

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It has been 26 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 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. 16–17 and the four-man on Feb. 22–23. The women's bobsled competition takes place Feb. 18–19. There will be two heats on each day of competition. It will be held at theSliding Center "Sanki" at the Alpika Service Mountain Ski Resort, which will also host skeleton, and luge competitions.

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.

The Vancouver 2010 four-man American team, nicknamed "Night Train," piloted by Steven Holcomb and including Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler, and Curtis Tomasevicz steered home with gold. The women's team of Erin Pac and Elana Meyers won bronze.

In Sochi 2014, the Night Train hopes to ride to gold again, this time with Steve Langton in retired Steve Mesler's seat. As for the women, Elana Meyers, who has moved from brakeman to driver, is looking to be the first American woman to win two bobsleigh Olympic medals.

-John Gettings,Christine Frantz, and Catherine McNiff

More about the 2014 Winter Olympics

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