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February 12, 1988

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) _ Willie Gault and Don LaVigne, once rivals for a spot on the U.S. bobsled team, became teammates Thursday under a waiver granted by the International Olympic Committee.

To end the feud, which caused dissension on the team, the IOC allowed the United States to add an extra bobsledder for the Winter Games.

LaVigne, an alternate pusher, was replaced last month by the Chicago Bears’ wide receiver.

The IOC’s ruling gives the United States 13 potential competitors, one over the Olympic limit of three four-man sleds. Only two sleds can compete.

″The IOC and the Olympic organizing committee both agreed that Don could become an official entrant in the Games,″ USOC president Robert H. Helmick said.

Charles E. Walsh, general counsel to the U.S. Bobsled Federation, said the federation had ″fully supported Don Lavigne’s application ... to be placed on the team.″

Earlier Thursday, however, the federation’s head questioned LaVigne’s sportsmanship.

″I think his line of reasoning that ‘I’ve made the sacrifices and commitments’ presumes that nobody else has either, such as Willie Gault,″ executive director David Heim said from Lake Placid, N.Y.

Helmick said the federation’s qualifying guidelines had caused the confusion leading to the dispute. The USOC used that as a basis to argue the case before the IOC.

The USOC also noted that ″no harm would be done to any other team″ because the 13th man would only be an alternate.

LaVigne, of Albany, N.Y., went to an arbitrator Wednesday to seek reinstatement, but the hearing was postponed after the USOC agreed to petition the IOC on LaVigne’s behalf.

It still appears unlikely he will get a chance to compete. Coach Jeff Jost said Wednesday that LaVigne had been bumped by Gault because LaVigne was the worst pusher on the team.

Gault, a former track star, started the controversy when he qualified for the bobsled team last month in tryouts in Igls, Austria, pushing aside LaVigne only a month before the Olympics. Several other bobsledders rallied around LaVigne, and driver Matt Roy threatened to boycott if Gault was put in his sled.

In appealing the decision, LaVigne argued that Gault was picked because his fame could give a boost to the low-profile sport. LaVigne said he should have been selected because he had been competing with the team all season.

Heim, however, noted that LaVigne has only been a bobsledder for a short time.

″The 15-year veteran has probably invested $100,000 of his own money in the sport as a driver, and Don as a push athlete has invested his $30 in dues, three or four trips to Lake Placid from Albany, and postponed a couple semesters of school,″ Heim said.

LaVigne said he postponed his senior year at Harvard to pursue his Olympic bobsled hopes.

Heim, head of the group which put together the team, said his comments did not mean the federation had withdrawn its support of the compromise.

″We certainly don’t want any more negative publicity,″ he said. ″Don is a nice guy.″

LaVigne did not immediately answer a telephone message left Thursday with the USOC in Calgary.

Helmick made it clear that LaVigne was completely eligible to compete, in the unlikely event he could move up to one of the top two U.S. sleds.

″I’m just surprised he wants to go to the Olympic Games to be just a spectator,″ Heim said.

Heim said Gault has more experience than LaVigne because he competed in the Four-Man National Bobsled Championships in Lake Placid in January 1987 and in the World Cup there the next month.

He said Gault’s times are better on both wheeled sleds and actual trial runs, but LaVigne said his were faster with a normal bobsled. The gray areas in the qualifying guidelines, which Helmick and Walsh declined to specify, contributed to the IOC’s waiver of the 12-man limit, they said.

″From the bobsled federation’s standpoint, we would really resist that anyone would suggest we made a deal with Gault for maximum exposure to the sport,″ Heim said. ″We certainly won’t deny that Willie brings a certain amount of publicity to the sport by virtue of his football prowess, but we do know for a fact that Willie Gault is faster than Don LaVigne, and that’s how the decision was made.″

Jost has also said it’s unlikely Gault will compete because he’s only the second-best alternate on the squad, behind Mike Aljoe. Aljoe, who played football at Oklahoma, may yet move up to the No. 1 team, Jost said.

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