LA LECHERE, France — Isn't there a team that wants Herschel Walker?
Traded by the Dallas Cowboys and benched by the Minnesota Vikings, Walker was removed from the four-man U.S. Olympic bobsled team Wednesday morning, only two days before the first day of racing.
Walker said driver Randy Will told him between practice runs that he wanted to make a change and replace him with Chris Coleman as brakeman on the USA I sled.
"I was stunned," Walker said.
Coleman, a three-time U.S. push champion as a brakeman from 1988-90, is Will's roommate on the World Cup circuit and at the Olympics.
"If Randy is more comfortable with Chris, well, I'm disappointed, but that's life and I have to live with it," Walker said.
"What bothers me is that Randy had been talking to Chris, Karlos (Kirby) and Joe (Sawyer) for a week about it," Walker said, referring to USA I sledmates. "Just nobody came up and talked to me about it. They should have. That's what bothers me the most. You pick your team, you go with it."
Walker earned a place on the squad at the U.S. team's court-ordered push-offs last month in Altenberg, Germany, where he recorded the top times in both the side push and brakeman contests.
As recently as Sunday, after Walker and driver Brian Shimer had finished seventh in the two-man bobsled event, team leader Jim Hickey predicted a gold medal for the four-man team with Walker pushing.
Hickey and Coach John Philbin said Wednesday that Walker's removal was basically Will's call.
"I think the decision was solely based on the driver's input and preference for Chris Coleman," Philbin said. "It's all based on how the driver's feeling. He has to have a sound mind going into the Games and that's the bottom line."
Will gave credit to Walker for his athletic ability, but said the Viking running back could not match Coleman's experience pushing a bobsled.
"You can't tear apart a team that has been successful and put someone on who has limited race experience," Will said. "You can't expect a miracle."
Walker's tenure as brakeman on the lead four-man sled lasted five training runs. USA I finished first and seventh in practice Monday and fourth and eighth Tuesday.
But on the first training run Wednesday, USA I again finished eighth and recorded only the 20th-best start time among 40 sleds. Out went Walker, in went Coleman. With Coleman as the new brakeman, USA I finished seventh in the heat, and the push time from the previous run improved 0.09 seconds to 6.10, which was 11th best in the field.
"The decision was out of my hands," Coleman said. "Herschel is a great athlete, but I'm ready to go."
Walker said he intends to stay around and cheer for the U.S. team, even if he isn't going to be an active member. But Walker said he would not be a scapegoat for the seventh-place U.S. finish in the two-man bobsled event.
Walker made an error on the first run of the two-man competition when he jumped too quickly into the USA I sled on the push.
"I don't feel they can do that to me," Walker said. "Seventh place was nothing to be ashamed about. I don't know anyone who can push better than me."
Walker said he won't quit competing in the bobsled despite getting bumped.
"It doesn't affect my future with bobsled at all," he said. "I'll be back. This kind of politics has been going on for years."
Controversy has long been riding in the same bobsled with the U.S. federation.
The board of directors was recently fired and a new one put into office after allegations of financial improprieties. Last month, the Raiders' Willie Gault and Greg Harrell and track star Edwin Moses filed suit to force a new set of push-off trials to determine the U.S. Olympic team.
The case went to arbitration and new push trials were ordered. Two court injunctions later, the push-offs were finally held in Altenberg but only after Moses had dropped out to concentrate on running hurdles. Gault failed to make the team, but Harrell earned a position as brakeman on USA II.
The inclusion of athletes such as Moses, Walker, Gault and Harrell in bobsledding has been a source of controversy for the U.S. federation, since they seldom can train and compete with the full-time members of the U.S. squad. But Will said Walker's demotion had nothing to do with his being a pro football player.
"Right now, I feel I'm going with what's best for everybody, not just for me or anyone else, but the United States," Will said.
"This is nothing against Herschel Walker or professional athletes," he said. "These guys can come out anytime. We need these guys."
Walker has been the most visible member of the U.S. bobsled team.
With Walker pushing both the two-man and four-man sleds, Coleman was the only member of the U.S. team without a spot in the Olympics. All that changed Wednesday.
"I think it's a big shock," Walker said. "The driver has a lot of input in these decisions. Right now, it's a tough time to go through a big controversy.
"If they win a medal, it could only help bobsledding," he said. "If they don't, there's no doubt there will be a lot of second-guessing."