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Herschel unloads trucks

He helped unload bobsleds from a flatbed truck. He wiped off the sled runners, carried spare helmets, and ran small errands near the start house.

Mostly he tried to stay out of the way.

Herschel Walker, the most famous U.S. bobsledder, was reduced to the most famous gofer Friday. But rather than complain about being dropped from the U.S. four-man team two days ago, Walker said all the right things.

"Let them have their day," Walker said, referring to the U.S. teams that placed ninth and 14th after the first two runs Friday.

"This is their time," he continued. "I want them to go to the finish line without controversy. They're doing well and I want them to feel up. I've got a new job now. I've got to be their support."

Walker's grace under disappointment was appreciated by Chris Coleman, who replaced him as brakeman.

"This morning I felt pretty nauseous," he said. "Look, I'm being compared to a man who does 2,000 sit-ups a day. But I think I proved today that experience counts for something. Herschel is a great, excellent athlete and a wonderful person. He helped us out and supported us. We needed that a lot."

Looking for the a Cold War?

There were hard feelings at the bobsled run, however.

Due to an organizational oversight or a complete lack of common sense, the four-man teams from Latvia and the Unified Team were placed side-by-side at the start house, engendering frosty relations that lasted throughout the day's runs.

The Soviet Union traditionally placed limits on the number of Baltic athletes permitted to make the Olympic team, and the members of the Unified Team refused to speak to the Latvians. They also painted Russian flags on their faces and cracked jokes about the Latvians' outdated sleds.

The Latvians quarrelled with their neighbors over tools and equipment in the common area, then rejoiced when both their sleds finished ahead of the Unified Team's.

"They think because we're Latvian we are inferior," said Sandis Prusis, driver of the Latvia I sled. "But we have proven that it was the old system which kept us down. We will only get better and better."

Leaving unceremoniously

Hundreds of athletes, some of them champions, have left town before Sunday's closing ceremony, traditionally a celebration of the "Olympic spirit."

Spokesmen for leading nations and host country France said athletes left to go home and rest or to train for forthcoming World Cup events and world championships. Franck Piccard and Carole Merle, France's top Alpine skiers at the Games with a silver medal each, had "obligations in Paris" and would miss the ceremony, a team spokesman said.

Germany, leading the medals table with its first unified team since 1964, said only 30 of its 114 athletes would attend.

Some athletes blamed the regional nature of these games for diluting the Olympic spirit. Venues are scattered over 640 square miles of the Savoie Alps, and competitors from different sports have been unable to mix because there is no central athletes' village.

"We saw Olympic advertising on TV but we didn't seem to be part of it. It was more like a World Cup race, not an Olympic atmosphere," said Austrian skier Petra Kronberger, who has won two gold medals.

His knapsack on his back

Italian ski star Alberto Tomba, hoping to drop in and visit injured teammate Deborah Compagnoni, got lost trying to ski from Les Menuires to Meribel and had to turn back.

Tomba, who will go for his second gold medal of the Games in the men's slalom today, got confused and had to take a ski lift back to Les Menuires before sunset.

Compagnoni tore her left knee ligaments in Wednesday's women's giant slalom, the day after capturing the women's Super-G title. She and Tomba trained together on an Italian glacier last summer.

It's the scent of confusion

Perfume sent to athletes at the Winter Olympics is causing a security stink.

Workers at the Games post office, who pass 15,000 items of mail a day through a hi-tech screening machine, complain that some fragrances are fooling the device, which they say is as sensitive as the best sniffer dog.

"We've had a few scares because the scents of perfume are sometimes confused with explosives," said officer Freddy Breut.

You think you're confused?

"I do not know how to call my own country. I don't call it the Unified Team. It's stupid. I don't call it the Commonwealth of Independent States. I hate the sound of the word." _ Russian broadcaster Alexendre Gournoff.

Tidbits

The men's and women's curling teams from Norway reached today's finals. The men beat the United States 8-3 in the semifinals of the demonstration event, and Switzerland beat Canada 8-4. Norway's women beat Canada 9-2 and Germany beat Denmark 6-5. In another demonstration sport, France's Philippe Goitschel (135.766 mph) and Finland's Tarja Mulari (131.371) were the top male and female qualifiers in the speed skiing semifinals. Jacqueline Blanc of France fell at 112.784 mph and tumbled down the slope as her helmet flew off, but doctors reported no fractures. Perfume sent to athletes is causing a stink. Workers at the Games post office say some fragrances are fooling a hi-tech screening machine that reads their scent as similar to that of explosives.

_ TIMES WIRES

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