Bobsled 101: Origins and Olympic history
Bobsled was invented in Switzerland in the late 19th century. According to legend, Switzerland citizens constructed the first sled by attaching two skeleton sleds together and installing a steering mechanism. The first bobsled club was founded in St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1897, and the first bobsled track was completed by the end of 1903. The sport became popular among the European elite, and spread throughout Europe.
The first bobsled track in the United States was built in anticipation of the 1932 Lake Placid Games. It remained the only run in the U.S. until the construction of the Utah Olympic Park in 1992.
Only the four-man competition was held at the first Winter Games, with Switzerland claiming the inaugural gold medal.
For the only time in Olympic history, the four-man competition was actually a five-man competition, and the U.S. came out on top.
The United States won both gold medals, as the two-man competition was held for the first time.
Switzerland swept the top two spots in the four-man competition, becoming the first nation other than the United States to win two medals in a single bobsled event.
The U.S. sled driven by Francis Tyler won the four-man title. Competition was halted in the middle of the second run when a water pipe broke and flooded the track.
West Germany driver Andreas Ostler won both events, the first sweep of the Olympic bobsled events by a driver in history. Switzerland’s Fritz Feierabend claimed a medal in two-man for the third consecutive Olympics.
Host country Italy produced the sleds that finished one-two in the two-man. The U.S. sled driven by Arthur Tyler won the bronze medal in the four-man.
The first and only time that bobsled was not included in the Olympic program, because the local organizing committee reportedly refused to build a bobsled track.
The British team of driver Tony Nash and brakeman Robin Dixon won the nation’s first bobsled medal. It was a surprise, considering there were no bobsled tracks in the country.
Italy’s Eugenio Monti capped a decorated career by winning both the four-man and the two-man titles. The two-man competition was initially ruled a tie, but judges later awarded the gold medal to Italy because they had the fastest single heat time.
West German sleds won half of the six medals, including the gold and the silver in the two-man competition.
East Germany’s Meninhard Nehmer became the third driver in history to win both events. Athletes from Switzerland and Germany won all six medals.
Germany’s Meinhard Nehmer became the first driver to win three career Olympic gold medals when he won the four-man race by a dominating .95 seconds.
East Germany’s Wolfgang Hoppe became the fourth driver to sweep both bobsled events at a single Olympics.
A large number of warm-weather nations entered sleds in Calgary, including Jamaica, the team would later have its story told in the movie “Cool Runnings.” Other warm weather nations that competed were Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Netherlands Antilles.
Austria edged Germany by .02 seconds in the closest four-man competition in Olympic history at the time.
Switzerland claimed three of the six Olympic bobsled medals, including the two-man gold medal. A U.S. sled became the first to be disqualified from an Olympics for using heated runners.
For the first time in Olympic history, there was a tie for the gold medal in bobsled, with Italy and Germany sharing the two-man title.
The American team of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won gold as women’s bobsled made its Olympic debut. It was the first Olympic bobsled title for a U.S. sled in 54 years.
Germany became the first nation to sweep all three gold medals. German driver Andre Lange led the charge by claiming golds in two-man and four-man.
Steven Holcomb and his “Night Train” crew won the four-man gold medal, ending a 62-year gold medal drought for the U.S. in the event. Host nation Canada claimed the top two spots in the women’s competition.
2014 host nation Russia swept the men’s bobsled gold medals. Aleksandr Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda, the two-man Olympic champions, were joined in the sled by Dmitry Trunenkov and Alexey Negodaylo in the four-man competition. Russia had not won a gold medal in either event since 1988, when the country was known as the Soviet Union.
Steven Holcomb, a 2010 four-man Olympic champion, piloted the United States to bronze medals in both two-man and four-man. He became the first U.S. driver to win two medals at the same Games since 1952.
Gold medalists Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse of Canada stood on the podium with two teams from the United States. Elana Myers and Lauryn Williams earned the silver medal, followed by Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans. Lolo Jones, who switched from track to bobsled in her quest to win an Olympic medal, finished 11th with Jazmine Fenlator.