When the Swiss attached a steering mechanism to a toboggan in the late 19th century, bobsleigh was born. The first races were held in the Swiss Alps in 1897. Canada’s first bobsleigh track was built in Calgary in 1986 for the upcoming 1988 Olympic Winter Games, allowing athletes to train at home. While an Olympic sport since 1924, women began competing at the Winter Games only as recently as 2002.
Today’s bobsled is built to be fast and aerodynamic, with a rounded fibreglass nose and four highly polished steel runners. To start, the racers push off as fast as they can for approximately 50 metres, then jump into the bobsled for a seated descent down the track. The driver steers down the track, while, at the end of the run, the brakeman stops the sled.
There are three Olympic bobsleigh events: the men compete in two- and four-man bobsleigh and women in a two-person format. In all Olympic Games events, four heats are held over two days, with medals being awarded to the team with the lowest combined time, measured to 0.01 of a second.