Less than two weeks before his scheduled participation in this February's Calgary Olympics as a member of the U.S. bobsled team, a Harvard senior learned that he had been replaced by world-class sprinter and Chicago Bears wide receiver, Willie Gault.
Donald La Vigne '88-89, a three-year member of the varsity track team, was told by his coach last Thursday that Gault had beaten him out as a brakeman on the U.S. third sled. Only the first two sleds are expected to compete.
Last Minute Switch
La Vigne, who took this year off to compete for his spot on the team, said that the last-minute switch was a calculated move by the United States Bobsled Federation designed to bring it publicity and money.
"I have to believe that a major reason for their putting him on the team was for publicity," said La Vigne, who flew back from the U.S. bobsled training site in Austria last week. Gault's rise in the obscure winter sport already has been a featured item on television.
"A situation where a professional athlete can participate in his sport all fall, waive the Olympic trials, push a sled a couple of times, and be selected merely on the coach's discretion alone is clearly not justified," La Vigne said.
La Vigne said that he asked the general counselof the U.S. Olympic Committee to investigate theselection procedures for the bobsled team.
"It was never made very clear how thisselection was to be made," La Vigne said. "I justwanted to review the process and make sure it washandled correctly."
The general counsel could not be reached forcomment.
Jeffrey W. Jost, the coach of the U.S. bobsledteam, said that he gave Gault the alternate slotbecause he was simply a swifter pusher.
"We can only take 12 people to Calgary andGault was the better pusher," said Jost. "I'm notgoing to comment specifically on why La Vigne wascut."
The U.S. coach said that Gault was allowed toskip the Olympic trials in West Germany because ofan "agreement made [by the Bobsled Federation] toallow him to participate because his tremendousspeed is a major asset to the bobsled team." Theinitial push is "the real athletic event of therace," he added.
A brakeman is one of the three men in back ofthe driver who give the initial motion to thebobsled. Often they have some experience runningtrack.
La Vigne said that such last-minutearrangements, like the one made with Gault, are"typical" for the Bobsled Federation.
"They have very little concern for the athletesinvolved in the sport," La Vigne said. "They'reall for publicity and for bringing money into thesport."