U.S. bobsledders' legacy: chaos galore, no medals

February 23, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- It's one of the longest losing streaks in sports. Thirty-six years. Nine Olympics. No medals. Much bickering.

Yesterday, the U.S. four-man bobsled teams ended the Winter Olympics far behind the pack on the tight, twisting course at La Plagne.

While Austrians, Germans and Swiss were splitting up the medals, the Americans once again were talking about what went wrong with their program and their effort.

"We've got some things to do," said Randy Will, driver of the ninth-place USA I sled. "Money is a big thing. We're lucky we have sponsors to take care of some things. We've got to channel the funds to the things which we need, which is technical support."

Will complained about his sled, about having to do the dirty work and remove Herschel Walker from his push team two days before the competition, about having to deal with distractions.

But in the end, Will said it was his imperfect driving that doomed the U.S. chances, leaving him 1.03 seconds behind Austria I and its gold-medal driver, Ingo Appelt.

Will got three of four pushes under six seconds from his crew of Karlos Kirby, Joe Sawyer and Chris Coleman, but he managed to botch the advantage by failing to smoothly negotiate Turn 18. USA II, piloted by Chuck Leonowicz, finished 11th.

"We proved ourselves in the push," said Will. "I had some serious driving problems and that was all my fault."

The Austrians had no such problems.

Appelt, a jeweler from Innsbruck, knows bobsled. And he knows gems. He won the gold with a four-race time of 3 minutes, 53.90 seconds.

The victory delighted him. The medal left him unimpressed.

"Of course, this is the most important piece of gold I have ever got hold of," he said. "Everyone wants to win an Olympic medal. But I must admit I have seen better-designed medals."

Appelt, whose only previous major victory was the European crown in 1989, won by just .02 of a second over Germany's Wolfgang Hoppe, a five-time medalist competing despite a pulled hamstring.

Two-man champion Gustav Weder of Switzerland took the bronze medal.

Despite the rough cut of the medal, Appelt said it will go on display at his shop in Innsbruck.

"It would have been very difficult to have had my bob career without the help of the business and my work," he said. "I hope we can find space for the medal in the shop window."

Weder said that perhaps Appelt should design the medals for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

"Firstly, the medals will be good ones and, secondly, Ingo will hopefully spend so much time working on them that he will not have so much time to train," Weder said.

The Americans should have such problems.

Another Olympics. Another failure.

Despite every effort at spin control, the fact is the Americans couldn't even crack the top five, let alone the top three.

They made more news when Walker was shoved off the sled Wednesday and replaced by Coleman than they did on the track.

"I'll be back in 1994," Coleman said. "We're that much more hungry now. I believe in my heart that we have the fastest push team in the world. This week put pressure on all of us. We had to overcome that and we did."

Still, the United States couldn't take a medal.

"I think the bottom line is results," coach John Philbin said. "People look for winners. When you put a winning program together, that's when people want to jump aboard."

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