If you started a bowling ball rolling down the bobsled run here would it beat the U.S. No. 1 team to the bottom?

If the U.S. No. 1 team used a duffle bag full of rocks as its third rider on the four-man sled instead of Willie Davenport, would it turn in a better time?

Why has the U.S. No. 2 team been baking its sled in a pizza oven this week? And what are those telltale illegal streaks on the sides of the sled's runners? They sure aren't pizza sauce.

In today's episode of "Bobsled, Bobsled," the U.S. managed to knock itself far out of competition for any medal (except, perhaps, the last-place prize) as the prestigious four-man event reached the halfway mark.

"Realistically, we have no chance for a medal," said Bob Hickey, driver of the No. 1 team, his sled 14th among 17 entries after two undistinguished runs.

The U.S. No. 2 team, one of many here using a new illegal compound baked onto the sled's runners for added speed, was in 13th place awaiting Sunday's final two runs.

The East German No. 1 team, driven by Meinhard Nehmer, broke the minute barrier on the venerable Placid course, clocking 59.86 seconds on its first run to hold first place with a two-run total of 1:59.89.

Even glamorous Swiss driver Erich Schaerer, standing third (2:00.72) behind the second-place East German No. 2 team (2:00.59), admitted, "It will be very hard to catch Nehmer unless he makes a mistake."

For weeks enthusiasm and publicity have hovered around the U.S. bobbers. The possibility of a four-man medal, even a gold, was touted by the team itself. Now, it's back to the drawing board.

"Willie Davenport is definitely the weak link on the team," said Bill Hickey, brother of driver Bob, and a former coach of the U.S. team as well as the U.S. No. 1 team driver in the '64 and '68 Games. "He's fast, but he just isn't nearly strong enough to be a pusher for a 500-pound sled.

"He's like a flanker in football trying to play fullback. He just doesn't have the physical ability to be a top pusher."

Davenport, a gold-medal hurdler in the summer Olympics in '68, refused comment on the undisguised team dissension that has surrounded him in recent days. However, the No. 1 sled's "push times' for the first 50 meters spoke for themselves: they were the second-worst of any sled on the mountain and were undoubtedly the cause of the team's poor showing.

"Davenport should not have been on the sled," said Bill Hickey. "It has nothing to do with Davenport, who's a fine guy. It just has to do with ability. He's not a good bobsledder yet.

"The U.S. bobsledding organization gave my brother a choice. They said they could replace Davenport and the other white guy on the sled. Jeff Jordan, or they could replace nobody. That way, no one could say racial prejudice was involved, since Jeff Gadley, who's black and who's an excellent bobber, would still be on the team. They'd replace one white and one black.

"They just didn't have the guts to put Davenport off the sled alone, because they were afraid of what people would say.

"My brother decided that putting two guys off the team wouldn't help anything," said Bill Hickey, his brother standing a few feet away, but not commenting. "So, he stood pat."

Howard Siler, driver of the U.S. No. 2 team, who ripped the push bar off his sled when he hit the wall in a curve, said only, "Well, we're ahead of the No. 1 team, as usual. And our push times were better on both runs as usual."

In part, the quick times here -- Nehmer was the first ever to run under a minute and the first to do two runs under two minutes -- may be attributed to the ancient bobsled tradition of blatant cheating.

"Better bobsledding through chemistry," said one U.S. official. "A new compound is being passed around that can be baked onto the runners and can't be detected. I think it's a polymer-type hard glass. But whatever it is, it's still not as good as what the East Germans have. They always cheated the best."

"Howard Siler stuck his sled in a pizza oven to bake the stuff on," said another U.S. official as Bill Hickey slapped his thigh. "He didn't even bother to get the brown streaks off the sides of the runners. It ain't pizza sauce."

Both U.S. teams used new sleds -- two days old -- and both Hickey and Siler praised them although Hickey lost the steering rope in the stretch called Zig-Zag on his second run.

Nevertheless, the deficiencies that have kept the U.S. without a medal in the bobsled since 1956 are still evident: not enough money for equipment, not enough muscle on the push and not enough cheating in the barn.

This dismal showing may, ironically, have helped one of those problems.

"I think all the controversy around Willie Davenport has done the sport nothing but good," said Bill Hickey. "It gets us publicity which might help us attract a little sponsorship money.

"Also, we all hope that some big football player out there -- maybe the next Larry Csonka at Syracuse -- will watch all this and say. 'I bet I could push that sled real fast.'"