Suffering the effects of jet lag and altitude, Edwin Moses felt no explosiveness in his legs as he and driver Brian Shimer eased their two-man bobsled into position for the start of their second and final run down the Cervinia, Italy, track last week. Yes, the Edwin Moses, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, who has emerged, at 35, as "one of the top two or three brakemen in the world," according to the U.S. bobsled coach, Tony Carlino. "And he's only 85 to 90 percent of where he will be."
Shimer and Moses, who man the top American two-man sled, are responsible for the only U.S. medal in World Cup bobsled competition this season, a bronze in Winterberg, Germany, on Nov. 29. It was the brightest spot in what has been another year of shame for U.S. bobsled's chronically inept national governing body.
But now Moses and Shimer were preparing for their final descent at Cervinia. An uncharacteristically atrocious start had left them tied for 11th place after the first run. Still, they were only .41 of a second out of third, and if they could lop .10 off the first 50 meters, they could move up five or six places, perhaps more.
Moses and Shimer rocked the sled once, lowered their shoulders and pushed. Cries of encouragement from their teammates were heard as the two sprinted down the course, flicking ice shavings into the air. Shimer jumped in first, then Moses, and the electronic clock froze at 5.38 seconds at the 50-meter mark—.09 better than they had started their first run but still .12 slower than the best starting time of the day.
February 4, 1991
Suddenly, inexplicably, the sled skidded sideways and slammed against the wall, slowing their momentum. Shimer cursed. There was nothing they could do now to make up the lost time. Shimer continued shouting profanities at every turn, so that Moses, head down, kept wondering if they were about to crash. This is it! he thought, bracing himself.
"So that's why your helmet was in my back the whole way," Shimer said later, laughing. They made it down safely, but their run was .28 slower than their first one, and the combined times placed them a disappointing 12th. Still, it was good enough to move them into a tie for seventh in the overall World Cup standings heading into the world championships, which start Feb. 4 in Altenberg, Germany.
That may have been one of the few times this season that an American bobsledder's curses were directed at the track rather than at his sport's higher-ups. Even as bobsled has attracted a crop of high-profile U.S. athletes—in addition to Moses, NFL stars Herschel Walker and Willie Gault will join the team in Altenberg—the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) has come under attack from its athletes, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and members of its own board for allegedly misusing funds and otherwise disregarding the best interests of its athletes. Indeed, some observers wonder whether the word skeleton in the federation's title might more aptly apply to secrets hidden in its closet than to the non-Olympic sport the organization also oversees, in which one person rides a sled headfirst down the bobrun.
Had Moses known more about the political realities of bobsled before he hopped on board, he might never have let Gault talk him into giving the sport a try when the two spoke at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, where Moses was a spectator and Gault a member of the U.S. squad. "I'd been watching bobsled on television since I was little, but Calgary's where I got the fever," Moses says. "I just wanted to do it, so I said, 'Why not?' "
Moses, who has taken the last two track seasons off, earned the respect of the other U.S. bobsledders by committing to the sport full-time and paying his own way back and forth between Newport Beach, Calif., where he lives, and Lake Placid, N.Y., where the U.S. team trains and the USBSF is based, three times since July. Moses has a degree in physics from Morehouse College, and the technical side of the sport attracts him. He is quick to grab a wrench to change and align a sled's runners and willingly spends long hours with sandpaper and oil in hand, helping Shimer polish the runners smooth. "You'd think someone from an individual sport wouldn't fit in that quickly," says Shimer. "But Edwin's a technician in everything he does. He's always asking questions and bringing things to my attention I'd never thought of. I was amazed how quickly he caught on."
By seriously lifting weights for the first time in his athletic career, Moses, who's planning a comeback in the hurdles this summer, has put on about 10 pounds—to 185—since his 122-race, 10-year winning streak ended in 1987. "I've bulked up about as much as I want to," he says. "A guy like Herschel still has 40 pounds more-than me, but I've been able to overcome that with good technique. The [bobsled] start is a lot like coming out of the starting blocks. You need power, speed and acceleration."
Once in the sled, the brakeman tries to remain motionless, a living, breathing sack of sand. "Nothing in your normal life—and I've been a pilot—can prepare you for a bobsled ride," Moses says, recalling his first trip down a bobrun. "It's wild. You're your own seat belt, so you hang on, and you're breathing pretty hard when you get out of there."
Moses and Shimer finished eighth their first time out in Calgary. Ten days later, in the second competition of the World Cup season, they were fifth in Winterberg. It was in the third two-man event of the season, also in Winterberg, that Shimer and Moses won the bronze. Their start times tied for the fastest of the competition. "We're doing very, very well with inferior equipment and no money," says Moses. "We hope to produce a winner. That's the bottom line. And we're not receiving the support."
Moses, being a relative newcomer to the sport, is reluctant to speak out about the bobsled federation's ongoing problems. "Whatever I say will have so much impact that I'd rather just stay out of the controversy," he says. "I will say this, though, after seeing the Swiss the first half of the season, and how efficient their support is: If we're expected to compete at that level, our federation will have to adopt a more professional outlook."
Shimer, who went $20,000 in debt to buy his own two-man sled—the sort of outlay, sadly, that even the best U.S. sliders must make—is more blunt about the federation. "They're not helping the athletes," he says. "It seems like we always come last. And a lot of the athletes are afraid to speak out because if the federation doesn't like you, they can make it very difficult for you."
One bobsledder who does speak out is Mike Mazzi, 32, who competed in the 1989 and '90 world championships and was a member of Shimer's four-man sled last week in Cerviania. "I've been in the Air Force for 14 years," says Mazzi, a master sergeant. "Bobsled is not my life, so I'm not afraid to talk. If [the USBSF] were a civilian company, it'd be bankrupt, probably filed for Chapter 11 and been investigated by the feds. The only way to clean it up is to remove the entire upper echelon of the federation."
That may be exactly what the USOC has in mind. Under the Amateur Sports Act, passed by Congress in 1978, the USOC is empowered to oversee the country's 41 national governing bodies, and on Oct. 20 its board of directors, in an unprecedented move, assumed direct financial control of the USBSF and ordered an outside audit by the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche to determine exactly how the USBSF had spent its money. "We've bypassed the federation and are funding the athletes directly," says John Samuelson. the USOC's chief financial officer. "The situation in Lake Placid has been pretty much out of control. There's been a ton of mismanagement."
According to Samuelson, the first warning flags went up last summer when the USOC learned that the bobsled federation, which in 1990 received $435,000 of its estimated $800,000 annual budget from the USOC, had not had an external audit since 1988, even though the USOC requires that all national governing bodies undergo such an audit annually. The USOC further learned that the USBSF had neglected to file an IRS Form 990—an annual requirement for all tax-exempt organizations—for both 1988 and '89, and had also underpaid payroll taxes for those two years. The USBSF has since filed its 990s and claims to have paid its back taxes.
After spending three weeks going over the USBSF's financial records in Lake Placid, the auditors were unable to complete their work because significant pieces of information were missing, including bank statements from an account in Switzerland that had been opened by a former USBSF treasurer, Jean Chaintreuil. That, says Samuelson, was just one of at least 12 bank accounts that the auditors discovered contained USBSF funds. Asked if that was an unusually high number of bank accounts for a national governing body, Samuelson replied, "It's more than the USOC has."
On Jan. 10, the USOC's executive committee gave the USBSF an ultimatum: The federation has until April 15 to produce missing financial documents or the USOC will move to decertify it, an action that would give total control of bobsled and skeleton to the USOC.
As of Jan. 23, the USBSF was 60 days overdue on a credit-card bill of $8,060. "Are they in debt?" said Samuelson last week. "Yes, clearly."
Who is responsible for this mess? Take cover, folks, this gets pretty thick. USBSF president Bill Napier, of Schenectady, N.Y., who has held that post since 1985, told SI's Beth Schmidt, "I will not take the blame! I don't write the checks or do the accounting. The president, by charter, is directed by the board."
Referring to the Swiss bank account, Chaintreuil, an accountant from Rochester, N.Y., points a finger at Louis Pugh, a building contractor and a USBSF vice-president. "All the information regarding that account, which was used to pay for travel and team expenses in Europe, was given to Mr. Pugh," Chaintreuil says. "He came into my office and picked it up. What they've done with it, I've no idea."
In response, Pugh says that Chaintreuil turned over eight boxes of documents to the federation when he left office in '89, but that the Swiss bank account records were not there. Pugh, a resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., nods in the direction of Napier. "It's never going to change as long as the president, the guy at the top, continues to try to control everything." So far the only head that has rolled—albeit gently—has been that of former USBSF executive director David Heim, whose contract was bought out by the federation in December for what sources in the organization say was $25,000. Heim had come under criticism after it became known that in the fall of '87 he asked Chaintreuil for a $10,000 loan to complete construction of his house in Lake Placid. Chaintreuil has told SI that he loaned Heim the money out of USBSF funds, charged 10% interest and then erased the debt by deducting money from Heim's paychecks.
"If he paid it back at interest, it's not really wrong," says an official of another national governing body. "But with limited funds, it's probably not something that should be done." Especially since, as Chaintreuil acknowledges, he did not consult the board about making the loan.
Last spring, Heim paid for some of the expenses—$2,500 worth, he says—for his wedding in Barbados by charging them to a USBSF credit card. "Sure, it was paid back," says Napier. "But it was not a proper use of a federation credit card. When I heard about it I wrote a memo and verbally stated so." Heim denies that there was anything improper about either transaction.
One of the few corporate sponsors the bobsled federation has been able to attract in the last few years is the Japanese firm Shoei, which last fall donated 60 helmets to the program and committed to give the USBSF $100,000 over the next two years. According to Mazzi, when he called Heim to ask for one of the helmets, Heim said he would be glad to sell Mazzi one for $150, and that only members of the World Cup squad would be given the helmets for free; Mazzi, a brakeman, had recently passed up World Cup competition in order to train to be a driver. Heim confirms Mazzi's account, but adds, "That policy, as I understood it, had been instituted by and through Louis Pugh. But we never actually sold any." That's because the policy was reversed after athletes complained.
"We were going to sell the helmets to enable us to buy push shoes," says Pugh, referring to shoes worn by bobsledders that retail for about $220 a pair. "We didn't have money to buy push shoes." But should the federation have been trying to sell to its athletes equipment that it had been given free? Many bobsledders thought not.
After Heim's departure on Dec. 31, Pugh served as the USBSF's acting executive director until Monday, when he was replaced by Jim Hickey of Keene, N.Y., a member of the federation since 1960. However, as a vice-president, Pugh remains a power in the USBSF.
It is surely no exaggeration to suggest that Pugh has had a checkered past. In 1967, when he was 33, he was the defendant in a wrongful-death suit that was settled out of court. As reported at the time by the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Press-Republican, Pugh and a companion, Judith Pellissier, 28, had gone on a 2½-hour flight in a single-engine plane, with Pugh piloting. After the plane landed at the Plattsburgh Municipal Airport, Pellissier fell into the propeller and was killed. According to the paper, Pugh put her body in the trunk of his car, got a bucket of sand and spread the sand over the blood at the scene of the accident. He later drove to his Plattsburgh office and phoned authorities. The incident was investigated, but no charges were brought against him. "It was very sad, very tragic," says Pugh. "I panicked."
In 1981, Pugh pleaded guilty to criminal charges of bond-fraud conspiracy in relation to a scam, uncovered by the FBI, defrauding the Allstate Insurance Company. Three years later, in a related civil action, Pugh and his construction company, A.M. Pugh Associates Inc., were assessed treble damages totaling $12 million. Today Pugh denies any wrongdoing in the case. "It was easier to plead guilty to something than to fight it with lots of money," he says.
Pugh's entrance into the bobsled world came in the late '70s, when he was a member of a four-man sled that competed for the U.S. His election as a USBSF vice-president in April 1989 still has people in the federation shaking their heads. "Louis brought up a busload of Pennsylvanians," says John Cogar, a veterinarian and former bobsledder who is head of the USBSF's judiciary committee. "All you have to do to be a voting member of the bobsled federation is pay a fee of $20. Almost everyone on that bus had two proxies. Few members of the current board deserve to be there."
"That's common knowledge," Chaintreuil, who was defeated in that election, says. "I was sitting in the parking lot when the bus pulled up. I've been working with the federation since 1981, and I'd never seen any of those people before."
Pugh doesn't deny that he brought in backers for the vote, but he defends his action as proper. "If you want to get elected, you get your votes together," he says. "We were organized."
In October 1989, the USBSF board changed its bylaws, enabling board members to double as paid employees. Pugh then nominated Carlino to be the team's coach—at a salary of $31,200—and Carlino returned the favor by nominating Pugh to be team manager at the same salary. "In effect, they reported to themselves," says Samuelson. "It was a huge conflict of interest." But Pugh replies, "People can only do so much without getting paid."
Two months ago, at the USOC's urging, Carlino gave up his position on the board and Pugh relinquished his team manager's job. As team manager at the 1990 world championships in St. Moritz, Pugh had shepherded a dozen older federation members, a group that was nicknamed the Pennsylvania Bobsled Club. "Everyone in the club had new U.S. team jackets," recalls Mazzi. "They took the team van to sightsee in Austria for two days, and the athletes were left with an open truck to get back and forth to the track. It was disgusting."
Pugh admits that he and the members of the group, who he says paid their own way to St. Moritz, did take the van to Austria and that they stayed overnight there. But he says the purpose of the trip was to pick up sled runners, not to sightsee.
One former board member, Norman Miller of Schenectady, N.Y., says that Pugh threatened him on two separate occasions and orchestrated his removal from the board at a meeting held in Miller's absence. "This is the way they do business," says Miller, an Air National Guardsman. "They intimidate people. Louis Pugh has threatened to sue me for working with the USOC on their audit. And in a restaurant in Albany last fall, Louis threatened to take me out in the parking lot and break my legs. That's what happens when you disagree with him."
Pugh says that Miller had been invited to the meeting at which he was ousted. He says he did threaten to sue Miller, 'but only if Miller defamed him. Of the restaurant incident, Pugh says, "That's not true. We got into an argument, and finally I said, 'Norm, if that's the way you feel, let's go outside and settle it like men.' "
Miller contends that the federation's problems are not so easily settled. "It's impossible to clean this thing up without removing the entire board," he says.
At least one USBSF board member agrees. "I think the board's responsible for what's happened, myself included," says David Kurtz, a lawyer from Lake Ariel, Pa., who's a skeleton driver and also a USBSF vice-president. "It has cost us sponsorships and is damaging to the program the year before the Olympics."
Ah, yes, the Olympics. As Edwin Moses and other bobsledders diligently prepare for the '92 Games, Samuelson says, "The sad thing is, with all these great athletes coming into the sport, the bobsled program really could be a medal winner."
Of course, that might require getting certain people out of the sport.