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Teams make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled.
Bobsleigh is a winter sport in which teams make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled. In the United States and Canada the sport is known as bobsled.
International bobsleigh competitions are governed by the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT). National competitions are often governed by bodies such as the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.
The sport of bobsleigh was invented in Switzerland. The first races were run on snow-covered roads, with the opening competition in 1884 at St. Moritz. The first club was formed in 1897, and the first purpose-built track was opened in 1902.
The Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was founded in 1923. Men's four-crew bobsleigh appeared in the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and men's two-crew bobsleigh was added in 1932. Women's bobsleigh started in competition in the early 1990s, and women's two-crew bobsleigh made its Olympic debut at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Bobsleigh is also contested at World, European, and World Cup championships.
Switzerland and Germany have been the most successful bobsleighing nations over European, World, World Cup, and Olympic championships. The Swiss have won more medals than any other nation; and since the 1990s, Germans have been dominant in international competition. Italy, Austria and Canada also have strong bobsleigh traditions.
Ideally, a modern track should be 1200 to 1300 metres long and have at least fifteen curves. Speeds may exceed 130 km/h, and some curves can subject the crews to as much as 5 g.
As of 2005, there are thirteen top-level competition tracks in the world:
La Plagne, France
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Lake Placid, New York, United States of America
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America
Bobsleigh tracks are also used for luge and skeleton competition.
Sleighs and crews
Modern sleighs 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. The maximum weight, including crew, is 630 kg (4-crew), 390 kg (men's 2-crew), or 340 kg (women's 2-crew). Metal weights may be added to reach these limits, as greater weight makes for a faster run. (Until the weight-limit rule was added in 1952, bobsleigh crews tended to be very heavy.)
Bobsleigh crews once consisted of five or six people; they were reduced to two- and four-person sleighs in the 1930s. A crew is made up of a pilot, a brakeman, and (in 4-crew only) two pushers. Athletes are selected based on speed and strength, necessary to push the sleigh to a competitive initial speed at the start of the race. Pilots must have the skill, timing and finesse to drive the sleigh along the best possible line to achieve the greatest possible speed.
Women compete in two-crew events, and men in both two- and four-crew competition.
Runs (lauf) begin from a standing start, with the crew pushing the sled for up to fifty metres before boarding. The runners of the sled follow grooves in the ice for this distance, so steering is unnecessary until after the sleigh exits the starting area. Races can be lost in the initial push but are rarely won there. Over the rest of the course, the sleigh's speed depends on its weight, aerodynamics, and runners; the condition of the ice; and the skill of the driver.
Race times are measured in hundredths of seconds, so any error can have a significant impact on the final race standings. Even small errors make for small decreases in speed and commensurate increases in time. Because any decrease in speed affects the sleigh for the remainder of the course, errors made high on the track will have a greater effect than those made closer to the finish.
The men's standing is calculated over the aggregate of four runs, the women's over two runs. At the Olympic Winter Games, all competition (for either men or women) consists of 4 heats.
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