Ten years ago, John Philbin was a Division III all-America decathlete at Frostburg State, chasing an Olympic dream. Now, at age 30, he's still chasing the dream, but it's the bobsled that is the central figure in it.

A slipped disc he suffered while weightlifting dashed his chances of making the 1980 Olympic team in the decathlon. But four years later, he came close to participating in the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. A member of the leading U.S. bobsled team through the pre-Olympic European season, his opportunity was lost when his sled crashed in the final run of the U.S. trials.

While harboring hopes of qualifying with his former bobsled buddies for the Calgary Olympic Games this coming winter, Philbin also trains and conditions other Olympic hopefuls as president of the National Sports and Performance Association, which he formed upon return from the last Games.

From his tiny office next to the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, he also serves as the regional representative for the U.S. Bobsled Federation, staying on the lookout for potential bobsledders.

More accurately, Philbin convinces athletes in other sports, generally football and track and field, that they are perfectly suited for stuffing their bodies into a cramped fiberglass sled and hurtling 90-95 miles an hour down a slick, snaking run. Amazingly enough, there are people actually interested in trying out for the national teams.

"Most people do it just because they happen to run into somebody else who knows of it or tells them about it," said Philbin. "Nobody knows how to try out for it. I never knew what it was all about when I did it. But, I looked at the other guys and figured if they could do it, I could do it and, besides, it was worth it to get to the Games."

Philbin discovered his own chances of making the bobsled team easier than in other sports while he was the strength and conditioning coach at the Games in Sarajevo.

He went through the national dry-land physical tryouts and placed in the top 5 percent. Three months later, in November, he was in West Germany hurtling down his first run. He was on the No. 1 American team, the other three members of which were track athletes.

"It's a sprinters' game," said Philbin. "Willie Gault {former world class hurdler who is now a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears} tried out last year and {former Olympic sprinter} Dwight Evans tried out in 1980. Three on my team were decathletes. That's the type of athlete we're looking for: someone with lots of agility and is around 185-205 pounds and has good speed."

Not every muscle-bound speedster need apply, however. The elusive elements of courage and concentration are tested mightily on that first run. 8 Pass the Test

At a tryout in May at the Aspen Hill Racquet and Fitness Club in Silver Spring, Philbin screened 25 applicants and chose eight. The test was the same as one given at the national screening in Lake Placid, N.Y., and involved eight events: weight throw, horizontal and vertical jumps, power clean lift, 30-, 60-, 100- and 300-meter sprints.

Points are awarded for times and distances and then totaled. The eight athletes will accompany four others chosen last year to the national testing in August.

The eight Philbin has chosen so far are Rich Prather and Mike Hohensee, both football coaches at Montgomery College-Rockville; Terry Jones of Silver Spring, who tried out for the Redskins last year, and his cousin Demetrius from Ohio; Pat Girard of Rockville, who played minor league baseball; Butch Walker, a karate master from Wheaton; Mark Orrell of Silver Spring, who played college football and tried out twice for the Redskins, and decathlete Bob Stebbins.

Stebbins, 27, a former two-time all-America from Mount St. Mary's, works the midnight-to-8 shift as a senior program technician at IBM in Bethesda.

"I'm sort of playing it by ear. I don't exactly know what to do to train for bobsledding," Stebbins said the other evening before a group workout. "The Olympics have always been in the back of my mind, but I was sort of thinking decathlon. I figure I've got a pretty good chance in bobsled."

Not all of them will make the 10 national teams that will compete through the fall and early winter to determine the No. 1 squad. At the national screening, the 10 team drivers may choose up to three individuals for their team. Some of the teams from the last Olympics are still intact.

Philbin's group gets together on Tuesdays and Saturdays to train at Aspen Hill, where they use a giant treadmill designed by Tim Rhode, the general manager. Philbin says the apparatus will revolutionize bobsled-training techniques.

But more than training techniques needs to be revitalized in U.S. bobsledding. Since there is no market for the sleds in this country, U.S. bobsledders use other countries' castoffs. Lack of interest severely inhibits the pool of athletes from which to choose and the method of screening itself, which forms teams a half year before the Olympics, makes for inexperienced teammates unfamiliar with each other.

"The federation is starting to make some changes, but it's still nothing like Russia and East Germany," said Philbin. "Over there, bobsledding is like basketball and football here. They're treated like celebrities. Here, it's, 'Wow, what's that?' "