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WINTER OLYMPICS : Two-Man Bobsled : Soviets Hold On; U.S. 16th

February 23, 1988|MIKE KUPPER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

CALGARY, Canada — Since Brent Rushlaw was trying to come from 20th place, and Matt Roy from 24th, it seemed logical that neither would crack the top 10 here Monday in the two final heats of the two-man bobsled competition.

And for once, in this obstreperous sport, logic prevailed.

Roy and brakeman Jim Herberich, despite a strong last run, could climb only as high as 16th.

Still, that was better than Rushlaw and Mike Aljoe did. Rushlaw came up with a sore back after a third run that did nothing to improve his position and skipped the fourth. He said he didn't want to take a chance on straining it further and possibly missing the four-man races this weekend.

Meanwhile, Ianis Kipours of the Soviet Union held off a strong comeback from third place by Wolfgang Hoppe, East Germany's defending Olympic champion, and won the gold medal. Both of Hoppe's last two runs were faster than Kipours', but the Soviet sledder made no major mistakes and lost only a 10th of a second to Hoppe, winning by 7/10ths.

The second East German sled, driven by Bernhard Lehman, silver medalist four years ago, finished third.

Monday's racing was scheduled for Sunday, but blowing sand brought Sunday's competition to a grinding halt. Similar poor conditions in Saturday's first two heats had the Americans in their impossible positions, since they raced late in the second round, when track conditions were the worst.

Roy was still disappointed about that Monday, when continuing high winds in the morning delayed the start for four hours.

"I don't think it was completely fair, but it was as fair as it could be," he said. "You got to expect the weather to change between heats, and I think the FIBT (the international bobsled federation) has a good way of running the draw."

Still, he said, losing Sunday's third run, which moved his sled into ninth place, was hard to take.

"It was tough to go from 24th to 9th and back to 24th all in the same day," he said. "The delay today was a little unsettling, too."

Actually, there were two delays. When it was too windy to start at 10 a.m., it was announced that the races would be postponed until 1 p.m. But at 1, track workers were still scraping and cleaning the track and nothing happened until nearly 2.

"I got myself all prepared to go and we ended up going about 45 minutes later than I thought we would," Roy said. "That was tough but it's part of the competition. You deal with it."

But on the whole, Roy said, the experience was well worthwhile.

"It's nice to have competed in my first Olympics," he said. "It's nice to have that behind you, both for the experience and the nerves."

His Olympics are not over, though, since he will drive in the four-man competition. He isn't expecting great things, though.

"I don't know if our team is too beat up from selection races all along to have a decent push or not," he said. "We've got a comparable sled to most of the competition but we haven't got anything fantastic. I guess I'll go back to saying I hope we make the top 10.

"Everything being equal, I don't think we've got much of a shot (at a medal). I don't think we are driving as well as Hoppe or Hilte (Swiss driver Hans Hiltebrand), our sleds certainly aren't as good as the East Germans', the Soviets' or the Swiss', and our pushes aren't there."

Whatever else happens this week, Roy said, football player Willie Gault will not be welcome on his four-man sled, or on Rushlaw's.

Asked if the teams were set, he said: "I really hope so. I think Brent and I will raise a big stink if they aren't. After beating ourselves up in five selection races in Innsbruck (Austria) over three weeks, if we have another selection race and spend 20 hours getting the sled ready, and beat our bodies up more for that, I think the American performance will go down."

Gault has been a controversial U.S. team member all month. He joined the other sliders in January, after his season with the Chicago Bears was over, and was included on the team at the expense of another slider, who took exception to that and threatened to sue and was later reinstated.

Then Saturday, Gault rode as the brakeman on forerunner Randy Will's sled and afterward, even though forerunners' times are not kept, proclaimed it the fastest U.S. run of the day, saying that he and Will should have been on one of the American sleds in the competition.

He also said that Roy and Herberich were the instigators of bad feeling toward him on the U.S. team.

"I think he's got no leg to stand on," Roy said. "He had a race-off with Brent--he was given a chance--and came in third out of three. I think the clock says it all."

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