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WINTER OLYMPICS : TWISTS AND TURNS : Fragmented U.S. Bobsled Team Meets Press, but Just Adds to the Confusion

February 18, 1988|MIKE KUPPER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

CALGARY, Canada — The United States bobsled team met the press here Wednesday and, as so often happens on those occasions, this one will be fondly remembered as one of the highlights of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Among the hour's happenings:

--Jeff Jost, the coach, said that football player Willie Gault's fast push times on Randy Will's alternate sled in two-man practice this week will not get him into the two-man competition this weekend. In bobsledding, the push start at the top of the run is considered the crucial element.

"They're the No. 3 team," Jost said. "They've got to push hard every day. The guys on the first two sleds know they're in. They're aiming to peak this weekend. They're saving themselves for the races."

--Gil Jones, the team manager, said that nothing of the sort was going on. "I believe that they're all trying as hard as they can every day," he said. He also said that, considering Gault's fast push times, there's a good chance Gault will be riding this weekend.

--The drivers, Brent Rushlaw and Matt Roy, were absent and so was any input they might have had, which figures to have been considerable.

Rushlaw was said to be working on a newly purchased two-man sled. The best anybody could figure about Roy was that he got lost, since he started out with the rest of the team.

--Don LaVigne, the 13th man on what was supposed to have been a 12-man team until he threatened legal action and was reinstated after having been dropped, said that although he had nothing personal against Gault, in his considered opinion, "(Gault) doesn't have a real strong commitment, per se, to bobsled as a sport." Gault's inclusion on the team last month resulted in LaVigne's temporary ouster.

--Hal Hoye, a pusher on Rushlaw's four-man sled, said that although he was Gault's only real booster last month, he has since changed his mind because of Gault's "sounding off."

According to Hoye, Gault is a good athlete but his "recent comments about being the fastest athlete, not only here but in the world," have been irritating.

Asked to whom Gault had been making such claims, Hoye was imprecise. "I don't know for sure," he said. "I think he said that on ABC."

--Said Gault, who when he isn't sliding down bob runs or making promotional commercials for a certain TV network, plays wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, "I'm having a blast." He also suggested, once again, that bobsledding controversies are peanuts, compared to what goes on with the Bears. "George Washington Carver's peanuts," he said, laughing.

He did take issue, though, with the idea that he was at peak push.

"I wasn't pushing all out," he said. "Randy was hardly pushing at all, so you can't say we were going all out. I've still got plenty more juice left in my legs to go faster."

--Nearly all of the athletes present said that, despite the controversy and the team's problems, they really were a tight unit, chock-full of love and respect for one another, gathered together for a common purpose--going to the hill to take on the rest of the world with the best bobsled team possible.

Jones said that the bobsled athletes here gathered constitute the finest collection of world-class athletes any country has presented, and Jost said that, with luck, those very athletes could possibly win a bronze medal in the four-man competition. He also hoped that one of the U.S. sleds could finish in the top 10 in the two-man races.

The inclination is to sort out all of this information, which is really only part of what was available, try to make some sense of it all and draw conclusions. Be advised, though, that things can change almost up until the moment of competition.

"We have some time, yet," Jost said. "In the two-man, we'll have the draw (for starting positions) Thursday night or Friday morning. We don't have to declare our teams until the draw."

In the case of the four-man sleds, the draw is a week away, so there is plenty of time for still more intrigue.

Gault, however, said that he really doesn't expect he would get to ride here and Jost pretty much seconded that motion, although he did admit that some four-man push-offs were scheduled for next week.

"Matt's teams are set," he said. "Brent is still experimenting a little. He may want to do something on his four-man sled, too."

Rushlaw, though, has been using former Oklahoma football player Mike Aljoe on his two-man sled all week, in place of regular brakeman Mike Wasco, and said previously that he is considering using Aljoe as a pusher on his four-man sled, in place of Bill White.

The American bobsled federation may yet be heard from, but Rushlaw said previously that he is not thinking of using Gault, which would seem to leave Willie out in the cold.

But then, bobsledding is a winter sport.

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