St. Moritz, that Swiss playground of the rich, the famous and the In, would be a perfect setting for a prime-time soap opera—a Dallas in moon boots and mink. So it was fitting that the script of the World Bobsled Championships, which concluded a two-week stand there on Sunday, included a dose of scandal and alleged skulduggery.
First, Wolfgang Hoppe, driver of East Germany's two gold medal-winning sleds at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984 and its two silver medal sleds in Calgary in '88, became embroiled in a steroid controversy. A former brakeman on one of Hoppe's teams told an Italian sports daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport, that he and other East German bobsledders had used performance enhancers in 1985 and '86. Naturally Hoppe denied the accusation. And just as naturally, the East German coaches insisted that their team in St. Moritz was clean. When the East German bobs driven by Hoppe finished no better than third in the two-man event and fifth in the four-man, the scandal lost some of its juice.
Then there were the charges that Switzerland's Gustav Weder, driver of the sleds that won the two-man and four-man titles in St. Moritz, had cheated. After winning three of the four heats to take the two-man competition, in which he easily beat archrival East Germany, Weder was spotted on the course last Thursday morning, before the final four-man training run, chipping two-inch-deep grooves in the ice wall of the dangerous Horse-Shoe corner with a sharp tool.
Was the odds-on favorite trying to improve his home-course advantage? "There was this bad lump of ice in Horse-Shoe that would have made the race a lottery," said Weder. "I wanted to correct it."
February 19, 1990
In spite of his explanation, Weder was persuaded by the Swiss team's managers to write a letter of apology, which the race jury accepted. Weder was let off with a minor fine ($1,350) and his sled was barred from its last practice run. "He should have been disqualified from the race," said Tony Carlino, coach of the U.S. team, whose sleds finished 12th and 15th in the two-man event and 13th and 15th in the four-man. "If Weder had been a Jamaican, he'd have been out. The rules should apply evenly. They should have booted him. They've done it before."
Indeed they have. At the 1958 world championships in Garmisch, the great Italian champion Eugenio Monti was caught skulking about the course with a shovel at one o'clock in the morning. He had already won the two-man event but was barred from the four-man.
Weder wasn't, and he made the most of his opportunity. On Sunday, Weder's team sprinted over a slick track at the top of the run and got off to a fantastic start—5.01 seconds for the first 50 meters—to win the heat. All Weder had to do in his final run was stay on track. This he did without a bump, thereby successfully defending the four-man title he had won at last year's world championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo. Scores of cowbells clanged rhythmically as Weder mounted the podium to accept his gold, the metal of choice in St. Moritz.
This year's championships were staged in celebration of the 100th anniversary of bobsledding, but the date was a compromise. According to bobsled historians, "sliding" was going on in St. Moritz before 1890. However, the first run devoted solely to bobsleds wasn't built there until 1903.
Paul Pruszynski, honorary secretary of the British Bobsleigh Association, a group that claims that British sojourners in St. Moritz founded the sport, says, "We couldn't very well celebrate the centenary during the [Calgary] Olympics, so we rather agreed upon 1990. Therefore, we've settled on 1890 as the year of its birth."
In a winter wonderland like St. Moritz, where fact and fantasy often mix, one year's as good as another. Happy bogus birthday, bobs!