THERE was a brief moment when I had to give a second take to a sports item on the plasma picture-bobbins the other day.

The four-man bobsleigh - that hurling down ice encased in a tube event so enthralling a spectacle at any winter Olympics - is to allow women to compete alongside men in mixed gender teams when the new season opens.

Besides it having to be renamed, four-person Roberta-sleigh perhaps, the move to equality is quite a striking one, especially in an activity that demands much of speed and core strength.

There was no doubt to the validity of the revolutionary move, meanwhile, according to Ivo Ferriani, the International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing president.

He said: "We follow the spirit and movements of our time. There is a strong belief in the FIBT (International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation) that men and women can compete together in four-man.

"Therefore, the executive committee decided to support equal opportunities for men and women in that discipline." Well said that man.

As with any team, mixed teams would have to qualify but there would be nothing to prevent all-women teams taking part, as well as mixed, in events as diverse and high-profile as the World Cup, Europa Cup and North America Cup, plus the world championships and, of course, the winter Olympic Games. The new development is quite a radical swerve given it was only 12 years ago when women's bobsleigh became part of the five-ringed programme.

One of the first reactions from a male competitor speculated how mixed teams might work. But he added candidly how some of the best pilots in bobsleigh were women, which would offer a logical way to break an all-male team monopoly. That observation was also a spoke in the eye for all those chauvinists who carp about 'women drivers'.

Whether women though could be the superior to their male competitive contemporaries in launching a four-person sled at the desired speed could be a moot point.

But surely that would always be the case whenever strength - and sometimes speed - comes into play in sport.

Apart from rare exceptions male athletes are invariably stronger and faster - that's just a physical fact.

No-one would surely pitch a male boxer against a female one. No one would entertain a male weight-lifter taking on a woman equivalent. And where would the spectacle be for a javelin duel between a man and a woman of equal status when the world record for the former is more than 22 metres further than that of the women's world best?

The prospect of mixed teams or solo events in which men and women could compete equally is one that could increase though now that something like bobsleigh - seen as sharply divided between masculine and feminine where never the twain shall meet - is now open to transformation.

Team sports involving both sexes already exist such as tennis and golf, especially in the latter where more modern-thinking clubs actually treat women as equal contributors. There remains, however, too many golf clubs where women, even juniors, are treated as an inconvenience merely to be tolerated.

Other sports too could incorporate mixed line-ups. Hockey would be one and that's speaking from a rueful college experience in which our five-a-side football team took on our female hockey counterparts in a game of sticks and clearly defined zones. Never have I been as black and blue, and knackered since, as in that contest in which we were emphatically bested.

There are also other sports where individually men and women could compete on a level playing status, if not field.

Billiards and snooker, where in the latter Alison Fisher, the long-time women's world champion competed on the men's circuit.

Then there's fencing, where technique and coordination are as much, if not more paramount, than brute strength.

Bowls too is an event that pit one against the other as could darts, though as mentioned before in this column, whether that is a sport is another matter.

The main problem to men and women competing against each could all boil down to an inherent reluctance on both sides to man or woman up. I can certainly see some fellas baulking at such a confrontation for fear of being embarrassed.

But who knows, those bobsleigh pioneers could well opened up a new route to mix-sport opportunities.