There is some dispute over where bobsled originated. For years, it was universally acknowledged that bobsled had begun in Switzerland in the late 1800s. A few years prior to the Nagano Games, however, evidence was discovered that lumber sleds had been raced in Albany, N.Y., in the 1880s — perhaps a few years before the sport was started in Switzerland. The sport's governing body, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et Tobagganing (FIBT), was founded in 1923. In June 2015, the FIBT changed its name to IBSF (International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation).
A year later, bobsled was part of the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France. A four-man event was contested with the Swiss sled driven by Eduard Scherrer winning the gold medal. The two-man event was added eight years later at the 1932 Lake Placid Games. Women’s bobsled made its debut at the 2002 Games.
Bobsled has been a part of every Winter Games except for the 1960 Games held in Squaw Valley, California, where there was no bobsled track.
The Swiss and the United States have been the top bobsled competitors throughout Olympic history. Switzerland’s 31 medals are the most of any country, followed by the U.S. with 24, then Germany stands in third with 21 medals. German sleds have won a combined 40 medals, including the 13 East German medals and six from West German sleds. German and Swiss competitors have won 71 of the 133 medals awarded in bobsled and 25 of the 45 gold medals. 2014 marked the first Olympics in which a Swiss or German driver did not win a gold medal in either the four-man or two-man since Italian Eugenio Monti swept both titles in 1968.
Bogdan Musiol, a push athlete who competed for East Germany and then Germany in the 1980s and then early 1990s holds the record for most medals won in bobsled. Pushing for three different drivers he won one gold, five silver and one bronze medal, competing from 1980-1992. The most decorated drivers in history are Monti and Wolfgang Hoppe, both of whom have won six medals. Hoppe competed for East Germany and then Germany.
The record for gold medals is shared by German driver Andre Lange and push partner Kevin Kuske. Lange won four-man gold in 2002, both two-man and four-man gold in 2006, and two-man gold in 2010. Lange joined an elite list of drivers who won both the two-man and four-man gold medals at the same Olympics in 2006; East Germany's Meinhard Nehmer (1976) and Wolfgang Hoppe (1984), Monti (1968) and Germany's Anderl Ostler (1952). Russian Aleksandr Zubkov won both in 2014, but was stripped of both medals due to a doping violation.
The United States was one of the dominant nations in the early years of Olympic bobsled. The U.S. won four of the first six gold medals awarded in the sport and eight of the first 18 medals total. But the U.S. had not won a medal since the 1956 Games until three U.S. sleds won medals at the 2002 Salt Lake Games. The U.S. added another medal – a silver – in 2006, and two-more in Vancouver with a gold in the four-man and a bronze in the women’s bobsled event. 2014 was the most successful Olympics the Americans had in bobsled since 1932. They won four medals; bronze in both two-man and four-man, and two medals in women's (silver and bronze). Since 2006, no nation has won more medals in bobsled than the U.S.
1924 Chamonix: The first Olympic Winter Games, only the four-man competition was held.
1928 St. Moritz: For the only time in Olympic history, the four-man competition was actually a five-man competition. In a competition shortened to two runs because of heavy thawing, William “Billy” Fiske drove the USA II sled to victory, earning his first of two consecutive gold medals in the event. Sixteen years old at the time, Fiske is still the youngest bobsledder to win a gold medal. The other four members of Fiske’s team – Nion Tucker, Geoffrey Mason, Clifford Gray and Richard Parke – were selected after they answered an ad in the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. None of them had ever seen a bobsled before. Mason showed up for practice just 18 days before winning the gold medal and never competed in an international bobsled race again.
The USA II sled driven by Jennison Heaton finished .5 seconds back in second place, marking the first time in Olympic history that sleds from the same country had finished 1-2.
1932 Lake Placid: The two-man competition was contested for the first time, with the team of driver J. Hubert Stevens and brakeman Curtis Stevens winning the gold. Three were residents of Lake Placid and used blowtorches to heat their runners for 25 minutes prior to racing. That tactic is now illegal, as runners must be within a certain temperature range, but while it was unusual it was considered acceptable at the time. In the four-man event, Billy Fiske repeated as champion, this time backed by a team that included Olympic legend Eddie Eagan. Eagan is the only athlete to win a gold medal in different sports at both the Summer and Winter Games. In addition to this gold medal, he also won a gold medal as a light heavyweight boxer at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
Fiske and his teammates – Eagan, Clifford Gray and Jay O’Brien – never raced together again. In fact, Fiske, Gray and O’Brien all died within a one-year period starting in 1940. O’Brien died of a heart attack at 57. Fiske joined the British Royal Air Force in 1939 – he was the first American to do so. Fighting in the Battle of Britain over southern England, he was wounded while flying a Hurricane fighter. He was only 29 when he died on August 17, 1940. Gray, known as Tippy, died in 1941. He was a songwriter whose 3000 songs included “Got a Date with an Angel” and “If You Were the Only Girl in the World.” Eagan died on June 14, 1967.
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen: 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 one bobsled event, or for that matter, two bobsled medals at one Olympics. The driver of the winning sled Pierre Musy was a 25-year-old Army Lieutenant and the son of the former President of Switzerland. The U.S. won two medals in two-man with the pair of Ivan Brown and Alan Washbond winning the gold and Gilbert Colgate and Richard Lawrence taking the bronze. Brown was the only driver to compete without goggles, claiming they dulled his eyesight and added wind resistance.
1948 St. Moritz: The United States regained the four-man title as the sled driven by Francis Tyler won the gold medal in a competition that was halted in the middle of the second run when a water pipe broke, flooding the track. Racing on their home track, Swiss sleds took the top two spots in the two-man, with Felix Endrich driving to the gold medal. Five years later, less than a week after he won the two-man world title in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Endrich was killed when his sled hurtled over a wall at “dead man’s curve” on the Garmisch course and struck a tree. Enrich was 31 at the time.
1952 Oslo: West Germany driver Andreas Ostler won both events, the first sweep of the Olympic bobsled events by a driver in history. Only four other drivers have accomplished the double. The medals were also significant because they were the first Olympic golds won by a German sled, announcing the dawn of a bobsled dynasty that continues to this day. Ostler’s crew in the four-man weighed an almost inconceivable 1041 1/2 pounds – an average of over 260 pounds per man. Prior to the Olympics, the sport's governing body limited the weight of future crews to 880 pounds. Swiss legend Fritz Feierabend drove to the bronze medals in both events. It was the third consecutive Olympics Feierabend had won a medal in the two-man. Feierabend won four Olympic medals and five world titles, but never an Olympic gold. American Stanley Benham won silver behind Ostler in both events.
1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo: Italian sleds finished one-two in the two-man. The driver of the winning sled, Lamberto Dalla Costa was a 35-year-old jet pilot who had never raced anywhere but Cortina. Italian driver Eugenio Monti, who lived in Cortina, won silver medals in both events, the first two of his record six Olympic medals for a driver. The most accomplished driver ever, Monti also owns a record nine world titles. The U.S. sled driven by Arthur Tyler won the bronze medal in the four-man. It was the last time a U.S. sled won a medal.
1960 Squaw Valley: No bobsled events were held.
1964 Innsbruck: Both events, which were held on the track in Igls, Austria, had surprise winners. In the two-man, the British team of driver Tony Nash and brakeman Robin Dixon won the nation’s first bobsled medal. There was, and is, no bobsled track in the country. The Canadian sled driven by Victor Emery won the four-man gold medal. Canada had never before entered a bobsled in Olympic competition. Italy’s Eugenio Monti won bronze medals in both two-man and four-man. Monti is perhaps better remembered for his act of sportsmanship in the two-man competition of 1964. Nash finished his first run in second place (behind Monti) but noticed that his sled had suffered a broken axle bolt. The problem might have forced Nash to pull out of the competition. When Monti heard about this, he removed a bolt from the rear axle of his own sled and gave it to Nash. Nash went on to win the gold medal, and Monti took bronze.
1968 Grenoble: Italian bobsled legend Eugenio Monti capped a brilliant career by winning both the four-man and the two-man titles. Monti entered the Games with four Olympic medals and nine world titles, but an Olympic gold still eluded him. Neither of Monti’s victories came easily as the Grenoble competition was one of the most bizarre in history. In the two-man competition, Monti, who was 40 at the time, and his brakeman Luciano De Paolis trailed by .1 seconds after the first three runs. But with a blistering time of 1 minute, 10.05 seconds – a track record – Monti caught the West German team of Horst Floth and Pepi Bader, and the two teams finished with the same four-run time 4:41.54. Initially, it was announced that both sleds would be awarded gold medals. Later, judges invoked world bobsled rules and Monti and De Paolis were awarded the gold medal because they had the fastest single heat time. (Those rules have since been changed and now gold medals would be awarded to both sleds.) The four-man competition did not end in a tie, but was still tight, as Monti’s team defeated the Austrian sled driven by Erwin Thaler by .09 seconds. The competition was shortened to two runs because warm weather was causing the track to thaw. Monti’s final Olympic medal came 12 years after his first.
1972 Sapporo Games: West German sleds won half of the six medals, including the gold and the silver in the two-man competition.
1976 Innsbruck: East Germany emerged as a bobsled power as Meninhard Nehmer became the third driver in history to win both events. These Olympics are also the first time Swiss and German athletes won all six medals. They would repeat that feat four years later in Lake Placid.
1980 Lake Placid: Meinhard Nehmer became the only driver to win three Olympic gold medals when he won the four-man race by a dominating .95 seconds. Swiss driver Erich Schaerer also had a strong Olympics, taking the silver in the four-man and the gold in the two-man. It was the only Olympic gold medal for Schaerer, who won six world titles in his career.
1984 Sarajevo: East Germany’s Wolfgang Hoppe became the fourth and most recent driver to sweep the bobsled events at a single Olympics. The medals were the first of Hoppe’s six. This Olympics was also significant because of the emergence of the Soviet Union in bobsled. The pair of driver Zintis Ekmanis and brakeman Vladimir Aleksandrov earned the bronze in the two-man; it was the Soviet Union’s first bobsled medal.
1988 Calgary: The hot topics in Calgary included sand and Jamaica – not exactly the normal buzzwords associated with bobsled. The two-man competition was marred by poor weather conditions and poor track condition. Defending champion Wolfgang Hoppe had the fastest time on the first run, but only the eighth-best time on the second run to fall behind the Soviet sled driven by Janis Kipurs. Hoppe complained bitterly about the track, which had become covered with sand, dirt and dust because of high winds and warm temperatures. He compared sliding down the track to “running on sandpaper.” After the first run, six nations, including the first-place Soviet Union, filed protest asking for the results from the first two runs disallowed. The protests were denied, but the weather and track conditions got so bad the next day that the third run was canceled, even after 28 sleds had already raced. When the competition resumed a day later, Hoppe had the fastest time in both of the last two runs, but the deficit was too much to overcome and Kipurs earned the Soviet Union’s first and only bobsled gold medal. Kipurs, a 30-year-old native of Latvia, painted his sled Latvian colors in protest of the Soviet occupation of his country. (Latvia competed as an independent nation for the first time since World War II at the 1992 Albertville Games.) Kipurs won a bronze medal in the four-man event, which was won by Swiss driver Ekkehard Fasser. Kipurs’ success in bobsled continued after his career was over. He was formerly the head coach of the U.S. national team. In the four-man event, American Brent Rushlaw missed a medal by two-hundredths of a second, finishing in fourth place.
The most significant development of the competition may have been the large number of warm-weather nations that entered sleds in the Olympics. The most famous and memorable was the Jamaican bobsled team, which helped finance its training by selling shirts and reggae record. 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. Those nations staged their own competition, vying for the “Caribbean Cup.” That cup was eventually won not by a Caribbean nation, but by New Zealand, whose two-man team of Alexander Peterson and Peter Henry finished 20th out of 41 teams.
This was the last Games in which there was no seeding system in the bobsled competition.
1992 Albertville: In the closest four-man competition in Olympic history at the time, the Austrian sled driven by Ingo Appelt edged the German sled driven by Wolfgang Hoppe to win the gold medal by .02 seconds. It is Austria’s only Olympic gold medal in bobsled. In the two-man competition, Gustav Weder and Donat Acklin, won their first of two consecutive gold medals. The two-man event was also the coming out party for German superstar Christoph Langen, who won the bronze medal.
1994 Lillehammer: The two-man competition saw a merging of old and new for the Swiss team. Driver Gustaf Weder and brakeman Donat Acklin edged the other Swiss sled of driver Reto Goetschi and brakeman Guido Acklin. It was the second consecutive two-man gold for Weder, who was one of the top drivers in the world from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, winning six world titles to go along with his four Olympic medals. But Weder edged Goetschi and Guido Acklin, who was the younger brother of Donat Acklin, by just .05 seconds. Goetschi would be one of the world’s top drivers for the rest of the decade and remains one of the medal favorites for the Salt Lake Games.
The four-man competition saw the last Olympic hurrah for two German superstars, Harold Czudaj and Wolfgang Hoppe. Czudaj’s sled won the gold medal, edging Weder’s sled by .06 seconds and Hoppe won bronze for his sixth and final medal. Though Czudaj competed at the 1998 Games, he never won another medal at the Olympics or the world championships.
The American streak of futility reached 38 years, but this time the U.S. failed in bizarre fashion. The best finish for a U.S. sled was 13th by the team of driver Brian Shimer and brakeman Randy Jones. But it was Shimer’s disqualification from the four-man for using heated runners – they were .9 degrees Celsius too warm — that captured the most attention. No sled had ever been disqualified from the Olympics for such an offense.
1998 Nagano: For the first time in Olympic history, there was a tie for the gold medal in bobsled. After four runs, Canada’s Pierre Lueders and Italy’s Guenther Huber recorded exactly the same time: 3:37.24. Germany’s Christoph Langen won bronze. Langen improved to gold in the rain-shortened three-run four-man race. The German sled won in 2:39.41, six-tenths of a second faster than the silver medalists from Switzerland. Great Britain and France tied for bronze.
2002 Salt Lake: Women’s bobsled made its Olympic debut and the American team of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers ended a 54-year gold-medal drought for U.S. sleds at the Games. Germany claimed both men’s gold medals, and in four-man, Americans Todd Hays (silver) and Brian Shimer (bronze) won the first U.S. men’s medals since 1956.
2006 Torino: In the second Olympics where three events were contested, Germany became the first nation to sweep all three golds. German driver Andre Lange led the charge by sweeping the two-man and four-man golds, becoming the fifth person to accomplish that feat. He also became the third athlete (second driver) to win three bobsled gold medals and the third driver to defend his four-man title. Swiss driver Martin Annen won his second and third career Olympic medals, capturing bronze in both the two-man and four-man (he also won bronze in the two-man in Salt Lake). Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming won silver in the women’s event and Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis won gold, becoming the first woman to win multiple bobsled medals (she won silver in Salt Lake).
2010 Vancouver: Steven Holcomb ended a 62-year gold medal drought for the U.S. when he won the four-man event. Germany’s Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske took their second straight gold in the two-man bobsled, finishing .22 seconds ahead of compatriots Thomas Florschuetz and Richard Adjei. Russia’s Aleksandr Zubkov* and Aleksei Voyevoda finished third, winning the country’s first medal in the two-man event.
2014 Sochi: American Steven Holcomb ended another 62-year drought for the U.S. when he won bronze in the two-man event. Russia's Aleksandr Zubkov became the sixth pilot to win a gold medal in two-man and four-man at the same Olympic Winter Games and the first athlete to sweep bobsled medals in his home country, but those medals were later stripped due to a doping violation. The German men missed the four-man podium for the first time since 1968 and failed to win a bobsled medal in any event for the first time since 1964. Canada's Kaillie Humphries became the first woman to successfully defend her Olympic title.
2018 PyeongChang: Germany dominated the competition in PyeongChang, winning four of the nine medals up for grabs. That included all three golds (tied with Canada in the two-man event), and a tie for silver with South Korea in the four-man event. Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs won the United States' sole bobsled medal, taking silver in the two-woman event -- Meyers Taylor's third Olympic medal.