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Winter Olympics 2018: A beginner's guide to bobsleigh, one of the sliding sports at the Pyeongchang Games

You may not have seen a real bobsleigh (also known as bobsled) race, but chances are you have seen Cool Runnings, the 1993 Hollywood movie loosely based on the first Jamaican bobsleigh team which competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics at Calgary.

The movie also threw up one of the best descriptions of the sport.

The German team in action during the Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships last year. REUTERS

The German team in action during the bobsleigh and skeleton World Championships last year. Reuters

As Irving Blitzer (played by Canadian actor John Candy), who is the coach of the Jamaican bobsleighers in the movie Cool Runnings, tells the Jamaican boys, "Bobsleigh is a simple thing. Basically what you're trying to do is to get your sorry rear ends from the top of an icy chute to the bottom. You ziggin', you zaggin'. It's the biggest, coldest roller-coaster you have ever been on."

Candy's character goes on to add, "Just one little drawback to this delightful winter sport. The high-speed crash. Always remember, your bones will not break in a bobsleigh. No, no, no. They shatter."

With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, upon us, here's a look at bobsleigh:

Olympic sport since: Four-man bobsleigh has been part of the Winter Olympics since the 1924 edition held in Chamonix. The two-man variation was introduced eight years later at the Lake Placid Games. The women's two-person event has been a regular feature since Salt Lake City 2002.

Biggest contenders: Historically, Americans, Germans and Swiss athletes have dominated this sport.

Medals at stake: 3

How is it played?

A bobsleigh race starts with all the team members, be it four or two, pushing the sleigh down the track before hopping into the sleigh. Once in, their biggest job is to bend as low as possible so as to reduce drag. Each two-person team has a pilot and a brakeman. The sleigh has a rope inside while helps the pilot with steering. The brakeman's job is to apply the brakes to halt the sleigh after the finish line. In case of four-man bobsled, there are two more team members called pushmen.

The pilot is the most important member of a team since he has to know the track's curves. Even a slight misjudgment on his part can lead to the team losing vital seconds, or, worse still, a crash.
Here's what the start of a bobsleigh run looks like:

The sport has evolved a lot since 1924 when it was first introduced. Back then, the sleigh looked like this:

And here's how much change the sport has undergone since 1932:


The track: Bobsleigh races compete on icy tracks filled with curves which increase the difficulty of the event. An average track is between 1,200m to 1,500m in length with an average slope of 8% to 15%.

Equipment required: A bobsleigh, usually made out of components like steel and fibreglass or carbon fibre.

Rules: There are rules specifying how much a sleigh can weigh and what its dimensions can be. A four-man team cannot weigh more than 630kg. The maximum length of the sleigh is capped at 3.8m while the maximum width is 0.67m. For a two-man bobsled team, the weight is capped at 390kg while for a two-woman team, the max weight can be 325kg. For two-person events, the sleigh can have a maximum length of 2.7m while the width can be 0.67m.

Scoring process: The bobsleigh event is a race. Each team gets to careen around the track four times. The total time of the four runs decides the winner.


Published Date: Feb 10, 2018 12:53 PM | Updated Date: Feb 10, 2018 15:48 PM

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