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Bobsledding in Canada

You've been tobogganing as a kid, right? Now imagine speeding down a track at up to 150 km/hr. That's what Canadian bobsledding can offer the "daredevil" in you. Bobsledding in Canada is starting to become a recreational sport among the more extreme winter sports enthusiasts. Canadian athletes are consistently winning medals in world championships for bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton racing.

History of Canadian Bobsledding

The first recorded racing of toboggans or sleds was in St. Moritz, Switzerland in the mid 19th century; however, tobogganing in Canada was developed by eastern native tribes who would take a break from their usual routines and race toboggans down area hills. They invented the toboggan to carry supplies while hunting in Canada and to move settlements in search of resources.

As the novelty of the sport caught on with newly arrived Europeans they formed the Montreal Tobogganing Club in 1881. This was the beginning of bobsledding in Canada. A popular location for Canadian bobsledding at this time was the Montmorency Ice Cone in Quebec City. Tobogganing soon became one of the most popular winter activities in Canada during the mid 1800's.

Organized Canadian bobsledding was established in 1881. The first recorded luge race occurred in 1879. Skeleton racing originated in St. Moritz, Switzerland in the late 1800's and got its name in 1892 due to the metal structure of the sled which resembled a human skeleton.

The Canadian Amateur Bobsleigh and Luge Association formed in 1957. The first Canadian bobsledding team to compete internationally was brothers Victor and John Emery in 1959. They had formed the Laurentian Bobsledding Association a couple of years earlier. In 1962, Lamont Gordon led a 4-man team to win the Commonwealth Bobsled Championship.

Douglas Anakin and Peter Kirby challenged the world's best at the 1964 Olympic Games and emerged with a gold medal in world record time! At the 1965 world championship, Vic Emery led the Canadian bobsledding team to a world title.

Canada formed its first luge team at the 1967 Canadian championship. Linda Crutchfield won the 1968 North American women's luge championship. In 1977, Carole Keyes won the North American women's championship while Bjorn Iverson of Canada won the men’s event. Larry Arbuthnot won the men's luge championship in 1978.

Canadian sledders Greg Haydenluck and Chris Lori returned Canada to the medal podium in the 1980's with championships in World Cup races in both the 2-man and 4-man bobsled. Miroslav Zajonc won the World Luge Championship in 1983. The bobsled and luge track at Calgary Olympic Park became the first professional runs for bobsledding in Canada. They were built in 1985 in preparation for the 1988 Olympic Games.

At the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games, Pierre Leuders and David MacEachern won the gold in the 2-man bobsled. In the mid-1990's, Ryan Davenport, with his custom-made sled, became the only two-time world champion in skeleton racing. Michelle Kelly won silver medals at the 1999 and 2000 World Cups for skeleton racing. Jeff Pain won a World Cup silver medal at the 1999 championship and followed that up with gold medals in 2000 and 2001.

The Whistler Sliding Centre has been built for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Canadian bobsledding teams are practicing on this track to prepare for their gold medal run…and it seems to be working as Canadian bobsledding teams have captured medals at the February 2009 World Cup at the Whistler Sliding Centre:
  • Jon Montgomery won the gold in men's skeleton racing while Jeff Pain stood beside him on the podium with a 3rd place finish.
  • Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse captured silver in the 2-person bobsled
  • Pierre Leuders and David Bisset placed 3rd in the 2-man event
Bring on the 2010 Winter Olympic Games!

Other Winter Olympic sports in Canada include: Types of Bobsledding and Crews

Three types of toboggans are used for bobsledding in Canada; bobsleigh or bobsled, the luge and the skeleton sled. The bobsled has 2 axles supporting two runners and carries 2 to 4 riders. The luge is a single sled carrying 1 or 2 racers lying backwards. The skeleton carries 1 rider lying face down and traveling head first.

Modern bobsleighs are made of a light metal structure over steel runners with an aerodynamic composite body. A 4-man bobsled can be a maximum of 3.8 m long while 2-man sleighs can be 2.7 m. Maximum weights for sled and crew are as follows:
  • 4-person bobsled – 630 kg
  • 2-man bobsled – 390 kg
  • 2-woman bobsled – 340 kg
Weights are sometimes added to achieve the maximum as it makes for a faster run. The trade-off is that is more difficult to push from a standing start.

A race begins when the bobsledders begin pushing the sleigh for up to 50 m from a standing start and jump aboard. The bobsled's performance is based on the skill of the driver to make "tight" turns, ice conditions, weight, runner performance, and aerodynamics. In Olympic Winter Games and World Cup races, medals are awarded to the fastest time over four runs or "heats". The driver must steer through 16 curves over a 1,500m course reaching speeds up to 150 km/hr. The crew must overcome up to 5 G's of gravitational pull.

Luge racing has three events; men's singles, women's singles, and men's doubles. The racer lies in a prone position and steers the luge through hairpin turns over a 750m or 1000m track. Speeds of up to 135 km/hr can be reached.

Skeleton racers lie face down on the sled in the prone position with their head positioned at the front. In Olympic skeleton races there are two runs for each competitor and each are timed to 1/100th of a second. There are no steering or braking devices allowed. The sleds are 80-120 cm long and 8 to 20 cm high with weight restrictions at 92 kg for women and 115 kg for men.

Canadian Bobsledding Associations
  • Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton is responsible for amateur bobsledding in Canada.
  • Canadian Luge Association is responsible for amateur luge racing in Canada. They have teamed up the folks at Canada Olympic Park to offer an introduction to luge racing, instruction from luge racers, and a run down a full-fledged Olympic track.
  • Calgary Bobsled Club rents 2 and 4-man bobsleighs for the day at the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
  • Foothills Bobsleigh Club is a non-profit organization that promotes Canadian bobsledding as a recreation activity.
  • Alberta Bobsleigh Association offers bobsleigh training from October to February at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park as well as a summer training program.
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