CALGARY, FEB. 12 -- hastily assembled U.S. appeals panel tonight rejected the protest of a speed skater bumped at the last minute Thursday from the 1,000-meters race.

After a four-hour hearing, the panel let stand team coach Mike Crowe's decision to replace Dave Cruikshank, who won the U.S. trials, with Tom Cushman, who was sixth in the trials.

"I have total disappointment," Cruikshank said following the decision. "I feel I had the right to skate as much as anyone else. I can't say anything about Tom personally, I'm just upset."

Cushman said he realized some team members would regard him as "the bad guy."

"I feel like some of the other skaters on the team will look at me like that, but I have my self-respect," Cushman said. "All I did was use due process."

It was the second time this week a U.S. team was split by last-minute disputes over athlete selection. Earlier, bobsledder Donald LaVigne demanded and won reinstatement after he was replaced on the alternate four-man sled by football star Willie Gault, who didn't join in the training until January.

LaVigne was protesting removal from the team. Cruikshank never lost his place on the Olympic squad, only his position as a starter.

That was a bitter pill because he won the December pre-Olympic trials in Milwaukee, finishing far ahead of Cushman.

But Crowe reserved the right at the time to switch starters depending on performance in the following weeks, and he said Cushman's subsequent showing in Europe precipitated the shift, which he announced Thursday.

Said Crowe: "I'm glad the decision has been made and we can get on with the work we have to do here at the Olympics."

The dispute arose Thursday when Crowe told Cruikshank he had not skated well enough since winning the trials late last year at West Allis, Wis., and would be replaced by Cushman.

Cruikshank, 19, of Northbrook, Ill., beat Cushman three times during the trials and lost to him twice since, during meets in Europe.

U.S. Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick appointed the commission after Cruikshank sought a review of the selection process.

Earlier in the day, Helmick denied the controversy, and a similiar dispute involving the U.S. bobsled team, was an embarassment to the USOC.

"This shows the strength of the USOC that we have ways to resolve these problems," Helmick said. "We stand for openness."

The other controversy centered around the selection of Gault, a member of the Chicago Bears, to the final spot on the bobsled team.

Despite practicing with the team for just a few weeks, Gault was chosen to replace LaVigne, who protested to the USOC. The organization subsequently ruled both Gault and LaVigne could be on the team.

Some team members suggested privately that Cushman's status was enhanced by the fact his father, Bill, is a member of the speed skating federation's board of directors. Two teammates, Erik Henriksen and John Baskfield, joined Cruikshank in protesting Cushman's selection at today's hearing.

The decision left Cruikshank with no place to compete, since he had not qualified at any other distance.

He filed an appeal with Helmick, who today named a six-member panel to review the decision.

"There were threats of litigation and arbitration and we've set up an excellent procedure for the athletes to redress," said Helmick.

"We have put together a commission from the USOC. It will determine who will skate in the 1,000 meters."

Interestingly, the commission included no one from the speed skating federation.

The last-minute soap opera did nothing for team morale on the eve of opening ceremonies.

"I'm kind of getting sick and tired of everybody talking about it," said 500-meters favorite Dan Jansen, whose run for the gold comes Sunday night.

"Ever since the trials, when {team officials} said they'd decide starters on the basis of performance, it's all anyone has been talking about."

Jansen said the decision on the final team should have come earlier. "Definitely," he said, "it's just too late."

The 500-meters world-record-holder, Nick Thometz, another U.S. favorite in the opening round of racing Sunday, said he's "trying not to involve myself."

"They're having trouble, which is partially due to the selection process. It got out of hand. They {starters} should have been determined earlier," Thometz said. Now, "morale gets a little down. People are on edge."

Both Thometz and Jansen also will race at 1,000 meters, where they are considered the top U.S. prospects. No. 3 starter at the distance is Eric Flaim, and the fourth place now officially goes to Cushman.