PyeongChang 2018

Bobsled at the 2018 Olympics: Everything You Need to Know to Watch

Most Americans' knowledge of bobsled is limited to lessons gleaned from American cinematic masterpiece Cool Runnings. While watching that over a decade ago was a wonderful experience, it didn't exactly prepare anyone to understand the admittedly insane and bizarre sport as we watch it at PyeongChang 2018. Whether you understand it or not, watching a team of brave souls in skintight suits hurtle down a hill on a metal sled is thrilling, but we promise it's even more exciting if you understand how and why this is all happening.

Definitely take some time to learn about its sister sports skeleton and luge, but right now we're going to break bobsled down for you, from whether there is in fact a Jamaican bobsled team to how you steer that terrifying hunk of metal.

What is bobsledding anyway? 

Bobsledding was invented by the Swiss in the late 1860s. In this strange and dangerous sport, teams run alongside a sled as they push it toward a hill, jump inside just before gravity takes over, and compete for the best run times down contoured tracks. The sleds used to be made of wood, but they're now made of fiberglass and steel.

The name bobsled comes from the bobbing of the crews to increase speed at the start of the race. The first club was started in 1897, but the sport was added to the Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix with the four-man race. The two-man race was added in 1932 at the Lake Placid Games. The first woman's Olympic event, however, wasn't held until 2002 at Salt Lake City. Runs are timed electronically to the 100th of a second. Four runs take place over two days, and the fastest aggregate time of those decides the final ranking. 

What's the difference between two-man bobsled and four-man bobsled?

As is probably apparent, the names of these styles come from the number of athletes in the sled. For two-man, the sled is pushed and ridden by a driver and a brakeman. As for four-man, there's a driver, two athletes pushing, and a brakeman. Women's bobsled is always two-man, but mixed-gender crews have been allowed in four-man since the Sochi Games in 2014.

How much does a bobsled weigh?

There's no time to get into gravity right now, but basically the heavier the sled is the faster it'll go. To make this fair, there are minimums and maximums for the weight of the sled without and without a crew. Without the crew, the minimum weight for a sled is 375 pounds for two-man and 463 pounds for four-man. For women's bobsled (always two-man), the sled must weigh 364 pounds. With the crew, the maximum weight of a sled is 860 pounds for two-man, 1,389 pounds for four-man, and 717 pounds for women's bobsled.

What's inside a bobsled? 

A sled is made of a fiberglass hull, a steel frame, four runners (pieces of steel that the sled rides on), and two axels to connect the four runners. There's also a steering mechanism: two pieces of rope attached to a steering bolt that turns the front of the bobsled. The driver pulls the rope with their right hand to steer right and pulls with the left hand to steer left. There's also a brake, which is used to stop the team from hurtling into something at 90mph. 

How much does an Olympic bobsled cost?

According to SB Nation, bobsleds can run up $100,000 per sled.

Is there really a Jamaican bobsled team?

We're proud to report that there is a Jamaican bobsled team, and there's been one since the 1988 winter games in Calgary. That team was the basis of Cool Runnings. The Jamaican team made a string of appearances after that but failed to qualify in 2006 and 2010. This year, they're set to compete in women's two-man.

In a strange turn of events, however, the team's coach, Sandra Kiriasis, just quit. She claims she was forced out after her role was changed to track performance analyst. Even stranger, Kiriasis is threatening to keep the team's bobsled, which she says she legally owns and for which she's demanding payment, according to the BBC. The Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation is disputing that she owns the sled. Thankfully, the folks at Red Stripe beer bought the team a new bobsled to save their Olympics dream. Honestly, the drama around all of this seems in the spirit of Cool Runnings.

When can I watch bobsledding?

Check out the full broadcast schedule here, but tune into NBC for the first primetime broadcast of the sport, the two-man event, from 8pm-11:30pm ET on February18.

Check back during the games for all of Thrillist’s continuing Olympics coverage. Think of us like an all-knowing friend watching along with you to answer all the important questions, like how heavy are Olympic medals. We'll explain everything from curling rules and figure skating scoring to what OAR means, why winning athletes are receiving stuffed animals and much, much more.

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James Chrisman is a News Writer at Thrillist who believes making snow angels should be the marquee event of the Winter Games. Send news tips to news@thrillist.com and follow him on Twitter @james_chrisman2.