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Bobsledding, as an organized sleigh-riding sport distinct from tobogganing, began in 1898 at St Moritz, Switzerland, where the first specially constructed run was built in 1904. The world association was formed in 1923 and, from 1957, has been called the International Bobsleigh Federation. World and Olympic championships began in 1924. An outstanding bobsleigh driver has been the Italian, Eugenio Monti, who won 11 world titles. European Alpine and North American crews have been the most prominent.
The sport is for seated crews of two or four, who descend winding courses of ice usually not less than 1500 m long with 15 or more bends, some steeply banked. Courses are constructed with permanent concrete foundations, augmented when possible by artificial freezing plants. Because they are expensive to maintain, there are less than a dozen major courses in the world, most of them originally built for Olympic use. The first track to be mechanically refrigerated throughout opened in 1970 at Kbnigsee, West Germany. Senior events require each crew to descend four times, the lowest aggregate time deciding the winner. Speeds can exceed 145 kmph. Four-man bobs are slightly faster than twos. Goggles, crash helmets, knee and elbow pads are essential equipment.
The driver steers and the brakeman, at the rear, corrects skidding. The middle two riders in a four are important in weight transference when cornering and in pushing the sled at the start, fast starts being a crucial part of technique.
Bobsleds are precision-built machines of steel and aluminium, with streamlined cowlings. They have runners on a fixed rear axle and a front axle that turns, steered by ropes or a wheel. The maximum length is 2-7 m for two-man sleds, called boblets, and 3-8 m for four-man sleds. The width of each must not exceed 67 cm. The crew seats are 20 cm above the ice. The maximum weights of sleds, with crews, are 375 kg for twos and 630 kg for fours. Within these limits, additional weights may be bolted to the sled to allow parity for light crews.