CALGARY, FEB. 17 -- The U.S. Olympic bobsledders put on their happy faces at a press conference today, insisting that all the controversy involving the inclusion of Chicago Bears wide receiver Willie Gault on the team has been forgotten.
But in interviews before the formal session, it became clear that several of the athletes clearly resent Gault's presence on their team.
"Wayne Gretzky didn't stop playing in the NHL so he could play for Canada, did he?" asked Mike Aljoe, a bobsledder who played football at Oklahoma and is now competing for a spot on the two-man sled. "We resent a guy making big money, then taking away something other guys have sacrificed for."
"I don't want to say anything right now," said another bobsledder, "but after the Games, you'll hear plenty. We're not upset at Willie, he's a good guy, it's just the way they picked him for the team."
Gault came to the Olympic team immediately after the Bears were eliminated by the Washington Redskins in the NFL playoffs and has been working as a pusher with the No. 3 sleds in both the two- and four-man. Only the No. 1 and 2 sleds will race in Olympic competition.
Today, the U.S. coach, Jeff Jost, would not elaborate on Gault's status, or the status of any of his sleds. He said the top two two-man sleds have been selected, but a change could be made on a brakeman for the No. 1 sled before competition starts Saturday. In the four-man, which begins on Feb. 27, he said, "You're talking about a lot of possibilities. The only thing carved in stone is we'll put the best American team out there. At this point, I can't say much more."
Jost did say that he will be satisfied with a top-10 finish in the two-man competition, but that "if everything falls into place, with a little bit of luck we're looking at a bronze in the four-man."
Jost said the Americans have outstanding athletes, but the best teams, from East Germany and Switzerland, have an advantage in sled technology. "Hopefully, by 1992, that will be different," he said.
From all indications, it appears that Gault will not get to compete in these Olympics. Jost says he will most likely allow his drivers to make the final choices "because they have to be comfortable with the guys in their sled."
Gault said he was simply happy to be here, still hopes to make it into the competition and will accept whatever happens.
"I'm having a blast," said Gault, who ran track before becoming a professional football player. "It's been so much fun, it doesn't get any better than this. I always wanted to participate in an Olympics and because of the boycott in 1980, I couldn't do it. Why the bobsled? It was the only practical thing I could do in the Winter Games. I'm not going to ski, luge, play hockey or ski jump. I think the sport is suited to my talents."
Gault and his driver on the No. 3 two-man Randy Will, have been winning time trials in practice runs this week, but Will said today he does not expect to be selected for the competition.