Bobsleigh: history, competition regulations, peculiarities


In the article “Bobsleigh” you will learn a brief history of the winter Olympic sport, technological features, a brief regulation of international competitions.

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Bobsleigh is a winter sport in which teams drive special sleds (bobsleighs) down fast, winding, icy tracks. Bobsleigh involves teams of 2 or 4 people, and since 2022, a “monobob” (one-person sled) has also become an Olympic sport.

Bobsleigh sled, 1920-1930
Bobsleigh sled, 1920-1930

Bobsleigh was invented in the 1860s in Switzerland, when riders first attached a steering mechanism to their sled, and was used mainly as entertainment for people at winter resorts.

The first bobsleigh club in the world was founded in the Swiss town of St. Moritz (1897), and bobsleigh became a truly official winter sport in 1923, when the International Federation was founded.

A year later, in 1924, the sport was introduced to the first Olympic Winter Games in France. Then four-man teams competed, but the doubles were added eight years later, in 1932.

Since 1931, the Bobsleigh World Championships have been held annually, with the exception of World War II. Women’s international competitions were first held in the 1990s, and since 2002 women’s teams have also made their Olympic debuts.

Alexander Zubkov
Alexander Zubkov

Mostly bobsleigh is dominated by athletes from Switzerland and Germany, but Russia also has its own champions who were able to demonstrate the highest level of skill. For example, at the 1988 Calgary Games, the Janis Kipurs/Vladimir Kozlov twin brought our country its first Olympic gold.

The Russian bobsleigh racer Alexander Zubkov added two more medals to the Olympic tally in the early 2000s: Silver in 2006 and Bronze in 2010. It is a shame that the anti-doping scandal with a political coloring in 2017 did not allow our world and European champion to collect a full set of Olympic medals. Nevertheless, Alexander is Russia’s most decorated bobsledder in its history.

There are four events at the Olympics: pairs and fours for men, pairs and monobobs for women. In the competition by two athletes perform the role of the pilot and brake. In the four – the pilot, breakman (accelerating and braking) and two members of the crew (boosters).

The role of the pilot is to control the sled during the race with special rings. The athlete in the “braking” role must slow down the sled as it approaches the turns and stop the sled at the end of the track. In foursomes, two more crew members help accelerate the bob and provide balance during the ride.

Sleigh and Bobsleigh Track
Sleigh and Bobsleigh Track

Competitions in each discipline are held on the same course and track. Modern bobsleigh tracks must meet certain parameters in order to ensure maximum safety. Its length usually ranges from 1200 to 2000 meters.

The track, made of concrete covered with ice, should be made so that the sled can reach speeds of 80 miles (≈130 km) to 100 miles (≈160 km) per hour on the first 250 meters of the course. It must have at least 15 turns, a labyrinth section (three fast turns in close proximity) and a straight section. In addition, the course must be sloped downhill, dropping evenly from 110 meters to 125 meters along its entire length.

Heavier sleds are able to move much faster on ice, so there are weight requirements in bobsleigh competitions to ensure fairness and safety for athletes. In foursomes, the sled and athletes combined must not weigh more than 630 kg.

Bobsleigh sled
Bobsleigh sled

In the doubles competition, the total weight must not exceed 390 kg. In doubles among women the maximum weight is 325 kg. In mono bobsleigh the sled must weigh at least 162 kg, but no more than 247 kg together with the athlete.

Nowadays, the body of a bob sled is made of fiberglass, aluminum and even super strong kevlar, material for body armor. But the best, according to experts, is considered to be carbon. The designers of the beanie aim for lighter weight in order to transfer the extra weight to the athletes.

Athletes can redistribute their weight on entering the next bend, bending to the right or to the left, and thus increase the maneuverability of the bob, and therefore the speed of the sled, increasing the chances of victory.

By the way, carbon has one more undeniable advantage, its surface is as smooth as a mirror. When going downhill it makes a huge difference because air friction on the hull becomes minimal, which allows you to achieve maximum aerodynamic characteristics, which have a positive effect on speed.

Bobbing skates are selected according to the configuration of a particular track, as well as the weather conditions expected during the race: temperature, humidity, precipitation.

Bobsled helmet
Bobsled helmet

To ensure safety, each athlete should wear a high-tech helmet, goggles, spiked boots and a compression suit. Spiked boots are designed to provide traction on slippery ice during acceleration.

In addition to basic gear, athletes also wear an additional protective (kevlar) shirt to protect against burns that can occur from rubbing against the ice if the sled flips over.

Interesting fact! The protective glass on the bobsledder’s helmet is made of usual plastic, however, it is double, with an air layer placed between the plates. Thanks to this glass does not fog up and the athlete has an excellent view throughout the descent.

In bobsleigh competitions, there are several instances in which a team can be disqualified. For example, if the temperature of the skids is 4 degrees higher than the control sled. Heated skids allow the sled to move faster, and this is a gross violation of the competition rules. The second most common reason for disqualification is the total weight of the sled and the athletes.

To win the competition, it is necessary to show the minimum total time. At the Olympic Games, races are held in 2 days, the team races four times, and all the results are summed up in the final time. If two teams have the same total time, both teams receive a medal.

Bobsleigh training
Bobsleigh training

A good bobsledder must have not only all the qualities of a car racer, but also considerable strength, because athletes need to accelerate a bob on the start in a few seconds so that it flies faster than the competitors, and after acceleration, they also need to quickly jump into their seats.

The weight of a loaded bob is comparable to that of a light car. No wonder that bobsleigh takes athletes who can meet the standard of the master of sports in both athletics and weightlifting at the same time.

The bobsledders’ grueling training doesn’t stop even outside the track. Athletes are primarily engaged in strength training, they work with the barbell, on simulators. In addition, bobsleigh athletes practice their short-distance running skills and improve their teamwork.

You can enroll in the bobsleigh section at the age of 12 at the earliest, since a child needs to be prepared physically and go through years of hard training. The first competitions will be available to him or her only from the age of 18.

About bobsleigh


Bobsleigh is a winter sport in which teams drive special sleds (bobsleighs) down high-speed, winding icy tracks. Since 2022, "monobob" (a sled for one participant) has also become an Olympic sport.

  • Kevin Kuske (Germany);
  • Andre Lange (Germany);
  • Francesco Friedrich (Germany);
  • Kylee Humphries (USA);
  • Alexander Zubkov (Russia).

Maximum speed in bobsleigh reaches 150-160 km/h, and overloads up to 5g. The record in the two-man bobsleigh is 149.18 km/hour (Dmitry Abramovich, Russia), in the four-man bobsleigh is 153 km/hour (Alexander Zubkov, Russia).

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