In the last two decades of the 19th Century a new phenomenon appeared in the Alps – the bobsleigh – courtesy of British sportsmen who were searching for the extreme version of the toboggan. The first “bobs” were built in 1886 and were raced down icy, winding roads. Bobsleigh clubs were formed, the bobsleigh itself was developed and the need for purpose-built tracks and standardised rules became evident. The name bobsleigh was derived from the way early crews would rock back and forth to try and increase the speed of the sled.
For years it was universally accepted that bobsleigh had originated in Switzerland in the late 1800s. However a few years before the Nagano Games it was discovered that lumber sheds had been raced in Albany, N.Y. in the 1880s and thus perhaps a few years before the sport was started in Switzerland.
The sport’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobagganing (FIBT), was founded in 1923.
The sport has been part of the official program since the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix 1924.
The first Olympic competition was a four or five-man event. In 1928 this was changed to a five-man, only to revert to a four man event at Lake placid in 1932 when the two-man event was added to the program. Women's bobsleigh entered the program for the first time at Salt Lake 2002, with a two woman event making its debut. In Torino the women’s two-man event will increase from two heats to four heats held over two consecutive days.
During the last century technical regulations governing the design, weight, construction and dimensions of the bobsleigh have been introduced. In 1933 it was forbidden to heat the runners of sleds before competing and in 1947 competitors were forbidden from wearing shoes with “nails” in the soles to give them better grip at the start. Weight restrictions of crew members was also put in place after the 1952 Winter Olympics when the Germans won both gold medals with a combined crew weight of over 472.5kg in the four-man and 236.6kg in the two-man.