How Bobsledding Works

By: Tracy V. Wilson & Patrick J. Kiger  | 

Bobsledding History

Two man bobsled champions Ivan Brown and Alan Washbond in action at the 1936 Winter Olympics, which was held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bobsledding began in 1877 in Davos, Switzerland, when people added a steering wheel to a normal sled. The first bobsledding club formed in 1897 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Most of the first bobsled runs were snow-covered roads, and for years it was a popular recreational sport, particularly for the wealthy. It had the sort of popularity that skiing has today. The sport's name comes from the way early teams bobbed their heads to try to gain more speed on straight portions of the run [source: IOC].

Bobsledding has been an Olympic event since the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France. At that time, the only competition was a four-man race. Two-man events were added at the 1932 games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Only men competed at the Olympic level until the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, when two-woman teams began competing [source: IOC].


The only Winter Olympic Games that have not included bobsledding were the 1960 games in Squaw Valley, California, when the organizers declined to build a bobsleigh run, because only nine nations had indicated that they would send competitors [source: IOC].

Until the 1950s, most bobsledders were big and brawny. But in 1952, new rules governing the maximum weight of a bobsled and its passengers went into effect. At that point, bobsledders became highly-trained athletes who were very strong but light enough to fit the rules' weight requirements. Teams from all over the world have competed in bobsledding. Though Germany, Canada, Austria, the USA and Switzerland are the traditional powerhouses, the competition including those from countries known for their warm climates. Jamaica's bobsleigh team not only qualified for the 2022 Winter Olympics for the first time in 24 years, but for the first time made the grade in three different events—the four-man sled, the two-man bob and the women's monobob [source: IOC].

Check out the links below for lots more information on bobsledding and other Olympic sports.

Originally Published: Feb 13, 2006

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More Great Links


  • Barroso, Mark. "The Gold Medalist Workout." Men's Journal. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • "How Have Bobsled Designs Changed?" (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • Borden, Sam. "In the Back of the Bobsled, the Not-So-Scenic Route." New York Times. Feb. 21, 2014. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • Britannica. "Bobsledding." (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • British Bobsleigh & Skeleton. "Bobsleigh Kit." British Bobsleigh & Skeleton. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • British Bobsleigh & Skelton. "Technique." British Bobsleigh & Skeleton. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • "Everything You Need to Know about Bobsled." Washington Post, 1998. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation. "International Bobsleigh Rules, 2019." (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • CBC. "What are the differences between bobsled, luge and skeleton?" CBC. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • International Olympic Committee. "History makers: Jamaica qualifies three bobsleigh teams for Beijing 2022." (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • International Olympic Committee. "Olympic bobsleigh at Beijing 2022: Top five things to know." (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • International Olympic Committee. "Squaw Valley 1960." (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • Kuhn, Karl F. "Basic Physics: A Self-teaching Guide." John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1979. ISBN 0471030112.
  • Mather, Victor. "All Women and All Alone: Monobob Leads New Events for 2022 Olympics." New York Times. Jan. 5, 2022. (Jan. 17, 2022)
  • Osborn, Hannah. "The perfect slide: The science of bobsledding." Smithsonian Science Education Center. (Feb. 17, 2022)