GENEVA -- Call it four-man bobsled still, but women can start taking part in the event this season.
Bobsled's world governing body, known as the FIBT, has opened the four-man competitions to mixed gender teams.
Teams consisting of a female pilot driving and men push-starting the bob could now be seen on the World Cup circuit from December and at the world championships in February next year.
"I strongly believe women can drive a four-man and be competitive," FIBT president Ivo Ferriani said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "For us, it's the natural evolution of our sport."
The 2018 Winter Olympics staged in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is a natural target for mixed teams, though Ferriani cautioned it was "too soon to create too much speculation."
"It's important to make the first step," the Italian officials said. "To analyze the situation and give the opportunity, and to have some terms of reference."
Previously, women competed only in two-athlete bobs and men competed in twos and fours.
There are no plans for adding fours to the all-female competitions, but Ferriani said the rules are open on what the gender balance can be in a four-member crew on the men's circuit.
"At the moment we don't have any limits," he said. "I think, personally, a woman pilot with three men can be strong."
Canada's Kaillie Humphries, a two-time Olympic champion in women's bobsled -- a 2-person sled -- has been one of the most vocal about her desire to have the chance at getting behind the controls of a 4-man sled, and has pushed for the rule change for some time.
She expressed her excitement on Twitter.
- Kaillie Humphries (@BobsledKaillie) September 25, 2014
Ferriani said mixed teams could first take part in World Cup races at a Dec. 15-21 meet in December at Calgary, Canada.
"They must prove in the qualification process they are at the right level," he said.
After the eight-meeting World Cup circuit, the world championships are held Feb. 23-Mar. 1 in Winterberg, Germany.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.