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WORLD SPORT

Bobsleigh

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Bobsleigh has been an Olympic sport since 1924.

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Bobsleigh
Winter Olympics
Torino

TORINO, Italy (CNN) -- Unlike more traditional sports, bobsleigh racing was developed purely as a leisure pursuit in search of the ultimate thrill ride in the 19th century.

Descriptions of toboggans, however, are found as early as the 16th century.

How it is done

In Olympic competition, bobsleigh events are held for two-man, four-man and two-woman teams along 1,300-meter or 1,600-meter tracks. The men's competition is held over two days, with four runs. The team with the lowest aggregate time after all four runs wins.

The women's competition is held on one day, with only two runs. The team with the lowest aggregate time after both runs wins. In both competitions, if two teams are tied they are awarded the same place. Runs are timed to hundredths of seconds.

Team members push the sled for the first 50 or 60 meters to build momentum before climbing in. The team member at the front drives the sleigh, while the team member at the back applies the brake after the course has been completed.

What makes it hard

The driver must control the sleigh while hurtling downhill across slippery ice on steel runners at an average speed of 135 kilometres per hour, with a top speed of around 150 kilometres per hour. The sleigh is steered using a group of pulleys and levers manipulated by two handles.

A bobsleigh course will twist and turn through a series of curves and circles, requiring the driver to choose the best line to take to ensure the quickest time.

Team members must also manage to climb into the sleigh before the first turn and must move their weight to the left or right with each turn. Competitors behind the driver must also ensure their heads are tucked in behind the driver's body to reduce wind resistance.

The course in Torino is 1,435 meters long with a drop of 114 meters and 19 bends -- 11 left-hand and eight right-hand.

Decoding the Jargon

You may hear some unfamiliar terms in the expert commentary of the bobsleigh at the Games. Here is what some of them mean:

Lip: A protective barrier at the top of the track that prevents the sled from crashing off the course.

Kreisel: A turn on a course that loops back underneath or above to form a circle. Kreisel is the German word for circle.

Labyrinth: A stretch of track made up entirely of a series of left and right curves with no straight section in between. At the Torino course, this is from turn six.

Omega: A curve shaped like the letter Omega in the Greek alphabet.

Which means you can sound like an expert by saying: "I'd have taken a line closer to the lip if I was driving. That could cost them."

Did you know?

The only time bobsleigh has not been held at the Olympics was in 1960 in Squaw Valley, California. When only nine counties indicated they would compete, organizers decided not to bother building a course.

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