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Everything You Need to Know About Bobsled

 How It Works
 1994 Golds
 Critical Moment
 How It Works
 Nuts and Bolts
 U.S. Outlook
 Others to Watch
 Looking Back at Lillehammer
 Gold Medalists

Venue: "Spiral," the first artificial ice track in Asia, is in the foothills of Mount Iizuna in the Asakawa district in the northern part of Nagano City. The 1,700-meter track has an elevation of 113 meters and encompasses 15 curves.

1994 Golds: Two-man, Switzerland (Gustav Weder and Donat Acklin in 3:30:81); four-man, Germany (Harald Czudaj, Karestan Brannasch, Olaf Hampel, Alexander Szelig; 3:27:78).

Critical Moment: Finding the perfect racing line is the key to bobsledding: The driver struggles with a violently shaking bobsled to keep it on the path that gives the fastest time down the run. In turns, the driver must keep the sled high enough to maintain speed but low enough to avoid going extra distance.


How It Works: Two- and four-man teams (men only) fly down a mile-long, ice-covered course in an aerodynamic sled at speeds of as much as 90 mph. The team with the fastest combined time after two runs gets the gold. The two- or four-man crews push-start the sled and jump in. The crewman in front steers the sled and is called the driver. The man in the back is the brakeman. On the four-man team, the other two are called side-push men. The push-start is crucial; it, and gravity, are all the power allowed. The two-man team — sled and crew combined — can weigh no more than 858 pounds, and the four-man no more than 1,386 pounds. Crews falling under these restrictions may add weights to the sled. The sled's runners may not be heated — their temperatures are taken before each race — nor lubricated.

Nuts and Bolts: To steer, the driver holds ropes connected to polished steel runners. Most drivers wear gloves; some steer bare-handed to have a better feel for the ropes. Crew members shift weight to help the driver steer — they can't see the track ahead, but learn the timing of a particular run's curves.

Speeds can reach 90 miles per hour, and runs take less than a minute. When braking, the crew feels five times the force of gravity.

History: Although sleds have been around for centuries, bobsled racing didn't begin until 1877 in Davos, Switzerland, where a steering mechanism was attached to a toboggan.

The world's first "bobsleigh" club was founded in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1896, spurring the growth of the sport in winter resorts throughout Europe. By 1914, bobsled races were taking place on a wide variety of natural ice courses.

The first racing sleds were made of wood but were soon replaced by steel sleds that came to be known as bobsleds, so named because of the way crews bobbed back and forth to increase their speed on the straightaways.

In 1923, the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT) was founded and the following year a four-man race took place at the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. A two-man event was added at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., a format that has remained to the present. American-built sleds and American athletes ruled the sport until the late 1950s, when Europeans came out with better sleds. By far, the most successful bobsledding nations have been Switzerland and Germany. The sport has since expanded around the world to include countries such as Jamaica, Armenia, Morocco, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and at the 1995 World Championships, no fewer than eight nations placed in the top 10 in the four-man event while seven nations were represented in the top 10 of the two-man competition.

The most well-known of those teams is from Jamaica, where the average temperature is about 80 degrees. The exploits of the Jamaican team became the gist of a movie, "Cool Runnings," and their training was financed by a beer company and a "secret admirer." At Lillehammer, the Jamaicans finished 14th, their best finish and ahead of both sleds from the United States.

EventDateTime (ET)
Two Man (Prelim.)Saturday, Feb. 141 a.m.
Two Man (Final)Sunday, Feb. 151 p.m.
Four Man (Prelim.)Friday, Feb. 201 a.m.
Four Man (Final)Saturday, Feb. 211 a.m.

U.S. Outlook: The United States hasn't won an Olympic bobsled medal in 41 years, but with three-time Olympian Brian Shimer, driver of the USA I sled, and a deep and talented push team and improved American
 The U.S. team, from left, Chip Menton, Brian Shimer, Randy Jones and Garett Hines won the four-man competition at the World Cup in November.
(Franz Peter Tschauner/AFP)
technology, this year offers perhaps the country's best shot at ending that drought.

Teaming with brakeman Rob Olesen, Shimer is coming off his best international season. The two finished third in the world championship two-man competition.

In four-man, with side pushers Chip Minton and Randy Jones providing the starting surge, Shimer's team won the world championship bronze and took home the Start Trophy.

Add in positive results from the season-ending World Cup competition held at the Olympic venue in Nagano (one gold, one silver in four-man), and Shimer's 10-year quest for an Olympic medal, which came up .02 seconds short in Calgary in 1988, may soon be over.

"Going into the World Cup season we have assembled the best team in the history of [U.S] bobsled," coach Steve Maiorca said. "There's no doubt in my mind that we have the best athletes, the best drivers and the best equipment in the world."

Others to Watch: The United States is chasing teams from Canada, Italy, Germany and Switzerland in its quest to end the medal drought.

In two-man competition, drivers Pierre Lueders of Canada, Guenther Huber of Italy, Sepp Dostthaler of Germany and Reto Geotschi of Switzerland have demonstrated tremendous strength and speed, taking turns dominating international competition.

In the four-man, the competition comes from Switzerland, with drivers Marcel Rohner and Geotschi, followed by Germany, with driver Dirk Wiese, and Italy, with Huber driving.

Although driver Christoph Langen of Germany did not compete in the 1996-97 season, he has posed a threat to the United States in two and four-man competitions in the past and is expected to make a come back in the 1997-98 season.

Looking Back at Lillehammer: The Americans came to Lillehammer with high hopes, based in part on their highly touted Bo-Dyn Sled, designed with the help of stock car driver Geoff Bodine, an aerodynamic wonder that handles and adjusts to tracks like a race car. The sled is hundreds of pounds lighter than previous models. But, not surprisingly, its chassis and new materials were challenged almost the moment the sled debuted. In then end, it was approved by international bobsled officials after some slight modifications. Shimer was the defending World Cup champion in the four-man, but finished a disappointing 13th-place finish in the two-man, and his four-man sled was disqualified because the bobsled's runners were too warm, the first time in Olympic history that a team has been disqualified for such a thing. The embarrassment continued for the Americans as their other sled finished 15th, one place behind the celebrated Jamaicans.

The Swiss won gold and silver in the two-man race, and the four-man race was won by Harald Czudaj of Germany by sixth-hundredths of second.

Gold Medalists

Four Man
Year Country, Driver Time
1924Switzerland (Eduard Scherrer)5:45.54
1928United States (William Fiske) (5-man)3:20.50
1932United States (William Fiske)7:53.68
1936Switzerland (Pierre Musy)5:19.85
1948United States (Francis Tyler)5:20.10
1952Germany (Andreas Ostler) 5:07.84
1956Germany (Andreas Ostler) 5:07.84
1960Not Held
1964Canada (Victor Emery) 4:14.46
1968Italy (Eugenio Monti) (2 runs) 2:17.39
1972Switzerland (Jean Wicki) 4:43.07
1976East Germany (Meinhard Nehmer) 3:40.43
1980East Germany (Meinhard Nehmer)3:59.92
1984East Germany (Wolfgang Hoppe)3:20.22
1988Switzerland (Ekkehard Fasser) 3:47.51
1992Austria (Ingo Appelt) 3:53.90
1994Germany (Harold Czudaj) 3:27.78
Two Man
Year Country, Driver Time
1932 United States (Hubert Stevens) 8:14.74
1936 United States (Ivan Brown) 5:29.29
1948 Switzerland (Felix Endrich) 5:29.20
1952 Germany (Andreas Ostler) 5:24.54
1956 Italy (Lamberto Dalla Costa) 5:30.14
1960 Not held
1964 Great Britain (Anthony Nash) 4:21.90
1972 West Germany (Wolfgang Zimmerer) 4:57.07
1976 East Germany (Meinhard Nehmer) 3:44.42
1980 Switzerland (Erich Scharer) 4:09.36
1984 East Germany (Wolfgang Hoppe) 3:25.56
1988 USSR (Janis Kipours) 3:53.48
1992 Switzerland (Gustav Weder) 4:03.26
1994 Switzerland (Gustav Weder) 3:30.81

Trivia: 1. Bobsledding became an Olympic sport in what year?
2. Why was USA-1 disqualified at the 1994 Games?
3. Who invented the bobsled?

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