The monobob, or single-person bobsleigh, seems to have burst onto the winter sports scene from nowhere, becoming an Olympic discipline for the first time at the Winter Olympic Games 2022 in Beijing. But the history of the sport goes back more than 160 years to when St. Moritz first became a winter resort.
Marc Fischer, President at the International Monobob Club (IMBC) St. Moritz, explains more about the sport’s history: “There were many different runs over the years. The Cresta Run – a natural ice racing toboggan track built in 1884 – became popular, and then some people wanted to sit rather than race headfirst down a track, so the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club was founded.”
In 1904, the Olympia Bob Run St. Moritz-Celerina opened in the Engadin Valley and bobsleigh enthusiasts enjoyed 1.72 kilometres (approximately one mile) of thrilling turns and straights. From the 1960s, the Swiss resort enjoyed a golden era when Gunter Sachs, the industrialist and socialite who once rented the Penthouse Apartment at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, became chairman of the St. Moritz Bobsleigh Club, ensuring the runs were well funded and kept in good repair.
It was Sachs’s son, Rolf, who introduced the monobob to the world in 2008, and in just 14 years the sport has gone from an experimental test run at the Olympia Bob Run to a bobsleigh discipline for women at the Winter Olympic Games 2022.
Dr Anna Erat, a monobob athlete and board member of the IMBC, is delighted that the sport is now reaching a wider audience. “As with any new sport it takes some time to get established,” she explains. “I have been driving a monobob for three years. The first time is scary on your own, but if you are prepared, you will find it absolutely thrilling.”
How to experience the monobob
The IMBC runs courses (three-days and five-days) for those who want to try this exhilarating winter activity. Once completed, students receive a licence, which enables them to slide on the Olympia Bob Run, which has hosted two Winter Olympic Games and is the oldest natural chute in the world (other runs are ice-covered concrete). Here, group sessions are a popular way to experience the sport.
“Groups set off from half-way up the track, but you still reach 115 kilometres per hour and experience 12 of the 19 curves,” explains Gregor Staehli, Managing Director at the Olympia Bob Run. “Each person does two runs and it is like a competition; we have a commentator and a time list and people really feel like Olympic athletes. This is a world exclusive. You can only do this in St. Moritz.”
British bobsledder Tony Wallington is familiar with the thrills of a timed bobsleigh run. A competitor in the Winter Olympics of 1980 and 1984, he also competed in the first British and International Monobob Championship in 2014. “When you see your time and it’s what you need to win the race, you forget about the bruises you’ve endured. You just feel elated,” he laughs. “No other activity gives me quite the same feeling.”
Marc Fischer also appreciates the exhilaration of the sport, and even has his favourite part of the Olympia Bob Run. “For me, the nicest bend is Sunny Corner – a long curved bend and the sunniest part of the course,” he says. “However, Horse-Shoe Corner, which features a curve shaped like a horseshoe, and I are not the best of friends!”
Dr Erat likes the challenge of the 180-degree curve. “I love Horse-Shoe Corner – you must be courageous enough to go high up the side before you start turning,” she says. “You need to keep your cool and not lose your nerve.”
Wallington is also a fan of Horse-Shoe. “The speed you feel after you exit is amazing,” he adds. “The absolute thrill though comes as you exit Devil’s Dyke and you are entering the fastest section of the run.”
What is a monobob?
A monobob is a bobsled for one person. It is pushed, piloted and braked all by one person. It requires fast legs and the ability to multitask.
How do I learn?
Join a course organised by the International Monobob Club St. Moritz (three to five days long) to receive a licence to ride on the Olympia Bob Run St. Moritz-Celerina.
When does the bobsleigh season in St. Moritz run?
Between December and early March.
Where can I find out more?