When he made a surprise training ride with the alternate U.S. two-man bobsled team at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, Willie Gault said he was satisfied with his performance.
"I think my push times proved I deserve to be here," said Gault, then of the Chicago Bears and now a wide receiver with the Raiders.
Gault didn't end up pushing a U.S. sled in competition at Calgary, but Tuesday he again proved he deserves future consideration for a spot on the Olympic team. He teamed with former Olympic track and field champion Edwin Moses and Bubba Womack of Brunswick, Ga., to set a track record in the three-man push competition at the National Push Championships.
The trio posted a record time of 5.18 seconds on one run and won the three-heat competition with an overall clocking of 15.68 seconds.
American bobsledders have been shut out of Olympic gold since 1956, but Gault and more than 50 other athletes who turned out here for the weeklong competition are giving bobsled officials renewed hope for the future.
"What we've seen in the first two days of competition has been unbelievable," said David Helm, executive director of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. "We knew we had some great athletes coming in, but we never imagined we would see times like these."
Gault created something of a furor when he joined the bobsled team after the Bears' NFL season ended early in 1988. Several sledders believed that he hadn't put in enough time to go to the Olympics, especially after he replaced longtime competitor Don LaVigne, who later was reinstated on the team.
Running back Herschel Walker of the Minnesota Vikings failed to appear Monday, but bobsled officials said Walker was trying to work out an arrangement where he will be able to compete at a later date. They said they were hopeful he might be able to compete within the next week.
Gault, Walker and Moses underwent a series of tests here in mid-July designed to gauge their strength and running abilities needed to compete in world-class bobsled events. And they were impressive.
Gault finished first and came within seven points of tying the record for the U.S. Bobsled Federation's qualifying tests. He scored 802 points in a test that included 30-, 60- and 100-meter sprints, the shot put, and vertical and long jumps.
Although both Walker and Gault have their obligations to football, they remain resolute in staying in contention for the 1992 Winter Games at Albertville, France.
"Whatever commitment we have to make, we're going to do them," Gault said. "Whatever the rules are, we're going to abide by the rules."
"As I get more and more experience with it, I'm going to feel more comfortable with it," said Walker, who suffered a minor injury in the Vikings' season-opener on Sunday. "Experience plays a big part in this sport. You have to know what you're doing."