CALGARY -- He is the first member of the International Olympic Committee to compete in the Winter Olympics, and surely the only athlete here whose name fills most of a paragraph: His Serene Highness Prince Albert Louis Alexandre Pierre of Monaco, Marquis des Baux.

And an all-around neat guy.

"We call him Al, or Big Al, in the village," said American Mike Aljoe of his new bobsled buddy. The Prince of Monaco says of Aljoe, the free-spirited former Oklahoma defensive end: "He sure says a lot."

It figured that the bobsled competition would be the most pleasantly international of the 15 events, but not that it would actually turn into a melting pot. And a boiling pot for the United States, also known as Team Dissension.

The two-man competition, which ended Monday, featured four Mexican brothers who drove 53 hours from Dallas to compete on two borrowed sleds, a Virgin Island team of two native Marylanders and -- get this -- the Prince of Monaco beating the No. 1 U.S. entry.

To the uninformed, the bobsled looks like the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride of the Winter Games. That's until you get separate glimpses of out-of-control sleds, as the Prince did during Monday's next-to-last run.

All of a sudden, there was the Portuguese No. 2 sled out of control, sliding on its side between icy walls, the driver and brakeman instinctively pulling their heads inside.

Fortunately, the spill was near the end of their run and the sled righted itself fairly quickly, sliding over the finish line with the passengers still cowering inside.

So while it has the trappings of amusement-park folly, the bobsled is not always a fun run.

"It's like playing a football game in 15 seconds," Aljoe said of the pounding inside the sled during a wreck, assuming the men are lucky enough not to be thrown. "I had a spill once at Lake Placid. Went a quarter of a mile in something like 15 seconds. Probably hit the wall at 75 mph.

"That sled gets extremely small. And it heats up {from the friction of sliding on its side}, so you try to move to the top. Course you could get thrown against the wall and get knocked out."

Monday's hairy experience followed by two days the first two runs of the event. That was the hottest day anyone could recall in big-time competition. The second round had to be postponed from Sunday to Monday because of high winds.

"It's a game of luck," said silver medalist Wolfgang Hoppe, the defending Olympic champion. "It is not only the weather, but the dirt and dust blown into the track, too. It's like running on sandpaper."

There were hot spots off the track as well, pro footballer Willie Gault arguing that he and driver Randy Will not being allowed to compete was "against the will of the American people . . .

"I thought it would be a raceoff here. Instead, the coach's decision was to race sleds 1 and 2, no matter what they did in practice."

Well, Gault seemed to have a point. Neither of Team Dissension's sleds had much luck the first day. Monday, the driver of the first sled, Brent Rushlaw, complained of an injury after the third run and failed to take part in the final windy charge.

As it developed, former world-class hurdler Gault could have sprinted down the track all by his lonesome Monday and posted a better time than Rushlaw's sled mustered. By sliding home safely, and surprisingly skillfully, the Prince of Monaco finished higher than the swift American.

All of this followed another unnerving several minutes for His Serene Highness at the top of the hill. Six sleds before his takeoff, the Japanese No. 1 team had an even longer and uglier spill. Neither man was hurt in that one, either.

"I tried hard not to think about it," the Prince said. "The ice on the curve might not be too good, but you try and wipe it out of your mind. You do have some control . . . you can feel the sled."

He was at the botttom of the hill now, having completed each of his four runs and finishing in a very respectable 25th out of 41 teams. A croupier in Monte Carlo served as pusher.

The bobsled is thrilling in ways similar and different from another interest, auto racing, Prince Albert, 30, said, adding: "You combine the {push} start with the finesse and sensitivity of driving.

"To put the two together is not easy; to put them together well is very hard . . . . I've had about 100 runs a season the last two years, so it's been almost full time."

His new friend, Aljoe, had described Prince Albert as "trying to be one of the guys {in the village}. And he is. Like everyone else. We hit on him, pick him up. This is something different for him. He's kinda being rebellious."

The Prince was cooperative with chilled newsmen near the finish line, after separate interviews with Monte Carlo radio and television stations. We weren't calling him Big Al, but the 10 or so minutes were casual.

He said the Olympics have been "just marvelous," but didn't say it in a snooty way. Of his own spills, he said the feeling was "really bummed out . . . aw, darn." And the initial experience with bobsled, during a holiday in St. Moritz was, "Wow, pretty fun."

Aljoe said the Prince Albert told him of plans to soon visit Dallas. Aljoe asked: "Mind if I party with you?" To which Big Al replied: "Sure, come along."

Probably, Aljoe said, he would decline the gracious invite. The only setting in which he feels comfortable with royalty is sport.