CALGARY, FEB. 10 -- The U.S. bobsled team acted today to defuse a building controversy over football star Willie Gault's selection to the team by allowing the man Gault replaced to come to the Olympics as a nonparticipating, 13th member.

The unprecedented action, which requires approval by the International Bobsled Federation, followed ex-team member Donald LaVigne's angry charge that Gault's selection was a publicity ploy by the U.S. Bobsled Federation.

Gault, a veteran wide receiver for the Chicago Bears and former Olympic-class sprinter, ousted LaVigne from the alternate four-man bobsled team during trials last month in Austria.

But LaVigne, who had trained since October, claimed Gault was chosen for what his fame might do for the sport, rather than superior skills.

David Heim, the Bobsled Federation's executive director, denied that today, saying: "It was an Olympic staff decision. We do things strictly by the clock; the fastest man goes. So I assume they made the decision on the basis that Gault was faster."

LaVigne hired a lawyer to press his case for reinstatement and a hearing was scheduled this week. But today the sides reached a compromise under which LaVigne may rejoin the team, but will not slide. LaVigne's girlfriend in Boston said he was flying to Calgary tonight.

If the compromise works it will defuse a potential powder keg. Some teammates here angrily protested LaVigne's demotion and the issue threatened to disrupt final training.

Meantime, Gault did nothing to smooth matters when he turned up in Calgary on Tuesday and called the bobsled team "a den of wolves" uninterested in winning a gold medal.

Gault, who is staying in private housing outside the Olympic village, told reporters who caught up with him at a welcoming ceremony: "I don't think it's important to them to win.

"What's important for them is to be in the Olympics and participate; keep their friendships intact," he said.

He was invited to team trials in Austria after the Bears were eliminated from the NFC playoffs by the Redskins Jan. 10, and quickly won a spot on the alternate four-man sled. Team officials had promised he wouldn't take anyone's place unless he improved times significantly and a driver agreed to take him. The top two U.S. drivers, Brent Rushlaw and Matt Roy, said they would quit before taking the football star over a teammate who had practiced and trained with them for months.

Whether training times actually improved with Gault pushing is in dispute. LaVigne claims faster times, but Gault said he "outpushed everybody" on one sled "by a tremendous amount."

In any case, when team officials held a "push-off" competition in January, testing running, jumping and strength, Gault finished third and Lavigne ninth, Heim said. LaVigne was bumped from driver Randy Will's No. 3 alternate team. (Each nation may bring three sleds to the competition, but only two compete.)

Speculation immediately arose among team members that Gault was brought aboard to raise the profile of the low-key sport during the Olympics.

"I have a real sour feeling in my stomach," said Scott Pladel, a "pusher" like LaVigne and Gault. "It took all our friendship and hard work and flushed it down the toilet."

"I feel cheated and I'm very upset," said Lavigne, who postponed his senior year at Harvard University to train. "There wasn't any justification for taking a professional athlete making six figures a year and forgoing all the qualification processes to place him on the team.

"He has no commitment to bobsledding and he got preferential treatment. He's doing it as a hobby. He hasn't competed in one race all season."

LaVigne's lawyer, Allan Rose, filed an appeal Saturday with the U.S. Olympic Committee. With time short before the competition Feb. 27, he pressed for a quick decision by a neutral arbitrator under USOC rules.

An arbitration hearing was scheduled today in Boston, but was delayed while the compromise was forged.

Some team members have been vocal in support of LaVigne. "Gault shouldn't be here," said Roy's brakeman, James Herberich. "It's the ultimate slap in the face to Don LaVigne."

Brakeman Mike Aljoe, who shares a sled with Gault, said the football star told his new teammates that when Coach Mike Ditka came to the Bears in 1982 he changed things and there were problems, but they still won the Super Bowl. Said Aljoe: "The change we're having to make is not at the beginning of a season. It's coming between the conference championships and the Super Bowl."

While federation members and team officials generally stayed mum on the dispute, technical coach Mike Hollrock conceded there was dissension.

"Some of Don's real close friends on the team are upset," Hollrock said. "We'd rather it wasn't there, but the guy {Gault} earned his way on the team. What can you do? You can't tell him you didn't make the team because you're faster."

One official privately decried LaVigne's claim he had paid his dues and thus was entitled to a spot on the team.

"To me, a guy who has paid his dues is a guy who worked three or four years and got aced out," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's not a guy who's been around three months."