The history of British Bobsleigh

While Great Britain can't claim to be the home of bobsleigh, it does have a strong case to be the founder of the sport. The invention of bobsleigh has been ascribed to a group of Englishmen on holiday in St Moritz in Switzerland in the late 1800s, while there are also pictures from the early 1880s of boys at Harrow School hurtling down snowy slopes on toboggans tied together.

The first purpose-built track solely for bobsleds opened in 1902 just outside of St Moritz, with that track and many of the ones that followed featuring a straight run rather than the twists and turns we are used to today.

British Bobsleigh was officially formed in 1927 in New York as the UK governing body for the sport and in 1980 the association was incorporated to become the British Bobsleigh Association Ltd. The BBA merged with the British Bob Skeleton Association to become the BBSA in 2015.

Leading the way

Great Britain can claim to have led the way in the development of the modern bobsleigh, which was produced by a small group of young engineers in Leeds prior to the 1980 Winter Olympics. It was a far cry from the original wooden sleds used in the sport’s early days and had many novel features, one of which was inspired by Concorde.

Olympic participation

Men’s Bobsleigh was included in the first Winter Olympics in 1924, just a year after the formation of the FIBT (IBSF), and has been a key part of the Games ever since. The sport has featured at every Olympiad bar the 1960 Games in California, with 2-man bobsleigh joining the party eight years after the 4-man version, in 1932.

Great Britain won gold at the 1964 Olympics, with Tony Nash and Robin Dixon achieving the ultimate accolade in the 2-man bob in Innsbruck.

That success was preceded by a silver medal in the inaugural Games when Ralph Broome, Thomas Arnold, Alexander Richardson and Rodney Soher finished second behind their Swiss counterparts in the French resort of Chamonix. A bronze medal followed in Nagano in 1998 courtesy of the 4-man team of Sean Olsson, Dean Ward, Courtney Rumbolt and Paul Attwood.

Great Britain were awarded a retrospective bronze medal in 2019 after the disqualification of two Russian sleds from the Sochi Games in 2014. John Jackson, Bruce Tasker, Stu Benson and Joel Fearon finished fifth in Russia but were rightfully upgraded to a podium place almost six years later.

Mica McNeill and Jazmin Sawyers won Youth Olympic silver in Innsbruck in 2012 and Kelsea Purchall won Youth Olympic bronze four years later in Lillehammer. 

Recent results

Bobsleigh remains Britain’s most successful winter team sport and the 2019/20 season has already seen an historic silver medal on the World Cup circuit for the 2-man team.

After the 2018/19 campaign ended with a joint-best World Championship 2-man finish for more than 50 years when Brad Hall and Nick Gleeson came equal fourth at the season showpiece in Whistler, Hall and Greg Cackett backed up that result with a superb second in the World Cup race in Igls in January 2020. 

The 2017/18 season saw the 4-man teams win World Cup bronze in Park City and silver in Whistler, with the latter setting the record for the then fastest speed ever recorded in a bobsleigh at 97pmph. 

The squad previously won silver at the World Cup event in Lake Placid in 2013 to register a first podium finish since 1997 and went on to claim gold at the North American Cup event in Park City in 2014.

Women’s bobsleigh

Women’s bobsleigh became an Olympic Sport in 2002 and has featured at the four Olympics that have followed. Women's bobsleigh continues to increase its levels of participation and British women have repeatedly achieved top-three placings in world events.

Mica McNeill and Mica Moore were crowned World Junior Champions in 2017 and McNeill and Montell Douglas won Europa Cup gold in Winterberg the same season. McNeill also has numerous North American Cup medals to her name.

McNeill and Moore recorded a fifth-place finish in the World Cup event in November 2017 and went on to secure the country's best-ever women's Olympic result when they placed eighth in PyeongChang in February 2018. 

Multiple World Cup medalist Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke claimed gold at the 2009 World Championships, with Minichiello having also landed a silver alongside Jackie Davies at the same event in Calgary four years earlier. Minichiello and Davies secured top spot at the 2005 World Push Championships, while Paula Walker won World Junior Championship Gold alongside Rebekah Wilson in Lake Placid in 2011 and Michelle Coy-Martin was twice an overall World Cup runner up.