Walker benched in bobsled

February 20, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff WriterALBERTVILLE, France

ALBERTVILLE, France -- Herschel Walker was everywhere. One moment, you saw him walking in the opening ceremonies wearing shades. The next, he was sitting in a television studio giving multiple interviews. And the next, he was on a mountain tucked into a bodysuit and a helmet, shoving a 600-pound sled 50 meters for a wild ride down an icy slope.

But yesterday, the First Walker Winter Games ended.

A balding, sporting goods merchant pushed Walker out of the USA I four-man bobsled -- and out of the Winter Olympics. Randy Will, pilot of USA I, triggered Walker's removal to make room for a veteran brakeman -- and friend -- Chris Coleman of Vestal, N.Y. Until a thigh injury temporarily sidelined him earlier this season, Coleman was the brakeman on Will's sled for the last two years.

"I told them I'd cheer them on," Walker said. "I have no animosity. If they win, I'll be happy. If they lose, they can cry on my shoulder."

Walker was bothered when he heard that a decision to replace him was made as early as last week. He took part in two training runs Tuesday.

"They knew about the decision before," Walker said. "But they didn't tell me. They didn't seem to have the guts to do it."

Walker said he wasn't angry -- he was just trying to analyze the latest typically ticklish bobsled controversy.

"This hasn't left a bad taste in my mouth for the Olympics," Walker said. "I am keen to get back in 1994."

Walker, who moved into the brakeman position after his performance at last month's push-off in Altenberg, Germany, had been the only U.S. athlete to attempt to double in both the two-man and four-man competitions. He finished seventh in the two-man competition with driver Brian Shimer on Sunday in La Plagne.

Will, with the support of the coaching staff, made the call to pull Walker from the USA I sled.

"Right now, I feel I'm going with what's best for everyone -- not just for me or anyone else -- but the United States," Will said. "This is nothing against Herschel Walker or professional athletes. These guys can come out any time."

But apparently, Will expects more of a full-time commitment from the pro football players who have assumed positions as bobsled pushers.

"Herschel Walker is probably the most incredible athlete I've met in my life," Will said. "But you can't tear apart a team that has been successful and put someone on who has limited race experience. Even though he's a great athlete, it's unfair to expect a miracle. I should have known this from the beginning."

The U.S. coaching staff backed Will.

"We need to make sure that the driver's state of mind is totally clear and that he is comfortable with his team," head coach John Philbin said. "Randy felt that something was going on in the back of his sled that he wasn't comfortable with. That's the decision he made, and we're going with it."

The USA Bobsled Federation extracted every sound-bite of publicity from Walker's bobsled adventure. Although one major corporate sponsorship fell through when the Minnesota Viking and former Heisman Trophy winner failed to supply a two-man medal, the team received an unusual amount of attention at these Games.

"Herschel has done a great deal for the sport," Philbin said.

Walker made the team with a phenomenal push time during last month's trials. But he failed to generate the speed and power necessary to keep his spot in Albertville.

"If I had been pulled two days before the competition, I would have been devastated," Philbin said. "But Herschel took it very calmly. He said, 'If that's what you feel, that's what you've got to go with to get that medal.' "

The United States hasn't won an Olympic bobsled medal since taking the bronze in the four-man competition in 1956 in Cortina.

The USA I sled must still accelerate to move into medal contention. Coleman switched to Will's sled on the fifth overall training run yesterday, rejoining side pushers Joe Sawyer and Karlos Kirby. The sled placed seventh overall in the field of 40 entrants with a 59.37 second clocking. The USA I sled will have two more training runs today.

"I've done the best I could in training, and the decision was out of my hands," said Coleman, a three-time U.S. push champion. "Herschel is a great athlete, but I'm ready to go out and help this team win a medal."

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