LOS ANGELES -- Like one of his Los Angeles Raiders teammates, Willie Gault never was satisfied with one sport. Or even two.
A football and track star at the University of Tennessee, he discovered a diversion for the winter while watching on television as a former high hurdles gold medalist, Willie Davenport, pushed a bobsled for the United States in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Gault didn't know bobsled, but he did know that Davenport and his teammates weren't going downhill fast. Or fast enough. Gault figured he could do better. A favorite to win a sprint relay gold medal in the 1980 Summer Olympics, he promised himself that he also would win a gold medal at a future Winter Olympics.
If he had been able to fulfill that promise, he would have been only the second person to win gold medals in both Olympics. An American, Eddie Eagan, won in boxing in 1920 and the bobsled in 1932.
But Gault never competed in the Summer Olympics. Although he earned a place on the track team as a sprinter in 1980, the United States did not send athletes to Moscow because of the boycott. In 1984, he was ineligible for the Olympics because he was a professional football player.
With the International Olympic Committee's liberalized eligibility rules, however, Gault moonlighted in the bobsled and made the U.S. team as an alternate for the 1988 Winter Olympics. His fantasy of winning gold medals in both Olympics was gone, but, while he was in Calgary, Alberta, he convinced a spectator that the dream could happen for him.
The intrigued spectator, viewing a bobsled competition in person for the first time, was Edwin Moses, the 1976 and '84 Summer Olympics gold medalist in the intermediate hurdles. Less than two years from now in Albertville, France, it appears as if Moses will be trying to add a gold medal from the Winter Olympics to his collection.
Gault would like to go along for the ride.
So would another former college track star who has achieved some prominence in football, Herschel Walker.
Gault and Walker will start late this winter -- the later the better from the perspective of their National Football League employers -- but Moses is back at Calgary's Olympic Park this week for the season's first World Cup event. Moses said he expects to be named to one of two U.S. sleds for both the two-man competition Wednesday and the four-man competition Saturday.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on us because we're still learning," said Moses, who, along with a former softball player from Brunswick, Ga., named Bubba Womack, will be making his first start on a regulation course.
They probably will be in a four-man sled with driver Brian Shimer, a pusher on the 1988 Olympic team from Naples, Fla., and Chris Conrad, who did not begin bobsledding until completing his eligibility in 1989 as a UCLA decathlete. Moses and Shimer, a former football player at Kentucky's Morehead State, probably will team in a two-man sled.
Moses had his first trial by ice last month in Konigssee, Germany, at the International Push Championships, in which contestants are timed only over the first 50 meters. Regulation courses are about 1,500 meters long.
"All the other teams were laughing at us when we got there," Moses said. "They were saying, 'Here come the Americans: so much work, so little accomplishment.' "
Afterward, only the Americans were laughing. Moses, Shimer, Conrad and Womack won the four-man competition, and Moses and Shimer finished third in the two-man competition as the United States won the overall championship.
"I was more than ecstatic," U.S. coach Tony Carlino said. "We had never even taken a team to the push championships because we knew we weren't competitive. After 10 years in the sport, it was nice for me to be sitting at a table with all the trophies while the Germans were looking on enviously. It's always been the other way around."
Not always. But since 1956, when the United States won its last bobsled medal, the Germans, East and West, have used superior athletes and technology to win 19 of the 42 medals awarded.
The United States tried to match their athletic ability in 1980 by recruiting track athletes. Davenport, who won the gold medal in the high hurdles at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, competed for the U.S. bobsled team at Lake Placid. But Lee Evans, who set a world record at the Mexico City Olympics in the 400 meters that stood for 19 years, didn't take to the sport.
"He crashed once when it was 20 degrees below zero," said Carlino, who was on Evans' sled. "He told me, 'If I'm going to get hit by a Mack truck, I'll do it in warmer weather.' "
The U.S. bobsledding federation began a more concerted recruitment effort in 1985, attracting several athletes who were not quite accomplished enough in their sports to turn professional and one who was, Chicago Bear wide receiver Gault. By 1988, he was a free agent on his way to the Raiders and a bobsledder on his way to the Olympics.
But some of the more experienced bobsledders complained because Gault had not met all the requirements for representing the U.S. team and, although he was easily the fastest pusher, he was confined to an alternate's role. The wisdom of that was questioned when a U.S. four-man team finished out of third place by only two-hundredths of a second.
"It's all speculation, but if I had been on that team, we probably could have won the bronze medal," Gault said last week. "I think I could have made the difference because I was the fastest guy there. All you had to do was look at my times."
Carlino, named the U.S. coach after the fiasco in 1988, feared all he would see of Gault after that would be his backside.
"Willie was turned off after 1988," Carlino said. "But I told him that I would write it in blood that the best athletes would be on the team in '92."
Reinvigorated, Gault resumed his recruitment of Moses and then piqued Walker's interest at the "Superstars" competition in 1989.
If veteran bobsledders complain now about their teammates, all Carlino has to do is show them the numbers. In a six-step physical fitness test taken last summer by 250 U.S. bobsledders, Gault finished first. Moses and Walker tied for second.
Walker recently used a day off from the Minnesota Vikings to go to Lake Placid, N.Y., for a dry-track push trial and completed one run only a hundredth of a second off the track record. Moses' best is only two-hundredths off the track record.
"Some of the guys might feel like they've been training hard for a long time and that they are owed a place on the team," Carlino said. "But that's not the way it's going to be around here anymore. We're going strictly by performance.
"We have to win a medal in 1992. That's my mandate from the U.S. bobsledding federation and the U.S. Olympic Committee. If we don't win a medal, I'm gone."
Recent restrictions regarding the aerodynamics of the sleds have eliminated much of the danger from the sport, although sliding down the chute at as much as 75 mph is not without risk. But Carlino said that his bobsledders appear fearless.
"I asked Willie about it one day," Carlino said. "He said, 'Have you ever lined up against Lawrence Taylor?' "