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THE OLYMPICS / WINTER GAMES AT ALBERTVILLE : This Wasn't Steppingstone to a Medal : Two-man bobsled: USA 1 doesn't get the push it needs from Walker and is ninth after two runs.

February 16, 1992|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA PLAGNE, France — So how far behind is the U.S. two-man bobsled team?

"I'd say a field goal," Herschel Walker said.

Would you believe two touchdowns? Somebody had better have a trick play. It was tough sledding for Walker and Brian Shimer Saturday when USA I, the top American entry, could do no better than ninth place after the first two runs.

For a football player like Walker, this can only mean one thing--it's fourth and long.

"It's tough, but miracles have happened before," USA II driver Brian Richardson said.

Walker remained optimistic, pointing out that the difference between the sled he pushes and third place is just 0.28 seconds.

"Right now, we are in the hunt and I love it," he said. "We're not that far out of third or first. I think anything could happen. I told Brian this is exciting, and it's a matter of who can handle the pressure."

The British team of Mark Tout and Paul Lenox is first, leading Italy's Gunther Huber and Stefano Ticci by .03 seconds. Ingo Appelt and Thomas Schroll of Austria are third.

Walker and Shimer trail the bobsled piloted by Tout, a tank driver in the British Army, by .41 seconds.

"I don't think we have anything to be sad about," Walker said. "I'm psyched."

On a gray day sprinkled with snow, USA I put itself in the position of having to catch up to the leaders because of an apparent error by Walker at the start of the first run.

According to team leader Jim Hickey, Walker might have ended his push too soon and climbed into the sled behind Shimer without establishing his so-called power step.

"He may have been in the sled one or two steps early," Hickey said.

The push was timed in 6.14 seconds, the 11th-best in the first run and far slower than the sub six-second start that Walker and Shimer were hoping for.

"I told Brian, and I mean it, we're going to get into the 5s," Walker said.

Shimer said that he and Walker were both a little nervous on the first push and that his jump into the sled also could have been premature.

"Maybe we both got in a little bit early," he said.

With the final two runs today, it's getting a little late in the game for USA I. It's already over for Richardson and Greg Harrell of USA II, who are in 24th place.

Richardson, a mechanical engineer from San Jose who built his own sled--part of it in his garage--wasn't expected to challenge for a medal with partner Harrell, a Raider for part of last season.

Expectations were a lot higher for Shimer and Walker. After getting nosed out for the bronze medal at the 1988 Games in Calgary, the United States pinned its hopes for a medal on Shimer and Walker, based largely on the power push that a football player like Walker would be able to provide.

Although Walker's push time improved to 6:09 in the second heat, USA I still dropped four places overall, from sixth to 10th, from the first run to the second.

"I guess you could say we're disappointed, but we're still in there," Walker said.

Strength through adversity is Walker's theme, which he developed after falling out of favor with the Minnesota Vikings.

"I didn't really play football the last two years," Walker said. "I was running on and off the field more than I was playing football.

"Football has sort of helped me have a rage reborn," he said. "I don't know how long I'm going to play football or do this, but I came here to win."

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