A brief history of the bobsled
May 29, 2009 2 Comments
Although the sled has been around for centuries as a mode of transportation, the sport of bobsleigh didn’t begin until the late 19th century when the Swiss attached a steering mechanism to a toboggan.
In 1897, the world’s first bobsleigh club was founded in St. Moritz, Switzerland, spurring the growth of the sport in winter resorts throughout Europe. By 1914, bobsled races were taking place on a wide variety of natural ice courses.
The first racing sleds were made of wood but were soon replaced by steel sleds that came to be known as bobsleds, so named because of the way crews bobbed back and forth to increase their speed on the straightaways.
By the 1950s, however, the sport as we know it today had begun to take shape. As the critical importance of the start was recognized, strong, fast athletes in other sports were drawn to bobsledding. Track and field competitors, handballers, gymnasts and others who could deliver a vigorous push at the start were much sought after.
In 1952, a critical rule change limiting the total weight of crew and sled ended the era of the super heavyweight bobsledder and sealed the future of the sport as an athletic contest of the highest caliber.
More athletic crews went hand-in-hand with advances in sleds and tracks. Today, the world’s top teams train year-round and compete mostly on artificial ice tracks in sleek high-tech sleds made of fiberglass and steel.
Until the advent of World Cup competition in the mid-1980s, bobsleigh success was determined solely by performance at the Olympics, World and European Championships. Since its inception, however, the World Cup series has added an exciting new dimension to the sport where versatility on different tracks and season-long consistency are rewarded.
East Germany emerged as the sport’s major power in the mid 1970s with its emphasis on sled design and construction. Since reunification, German bobsledders have remained a formidable group, winning numerous Olympic medals and World Championship titles since 1990.
From the small core of alpine nations who originally embraced bobsledding, the sport has since expanded around the world to include countries such as Jamaica, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Although the traditional bobsleigh powers remain strong, other nations have begun to show their strength. At the 1995 World Champion-ships in Winterberg, no fewer than eight nations placed in the top ten in the four-man event while seven nations were rerepresented in the top ten of the two-man competition.