Prince Albert is more serious, softer-spoken, gentler, an almost angelic-looking young man with a fine-boned face in which vestiges of his late mother, Grace Kelly, are readily apparent. Although he has wide shoulders and a lithe and wiry physique, there is a sense of frailness about the prince. He seems about as far removed from the traditional image of bobsledders—scar-faced, gimlet-eyed, speed-demented daredevils—as a concert violinist. Yet Albert is a grimly determined bob driver who in his shy way is proud of what he has already accomplished. "My times at St. Moritz last year were good enough to be in the top 20 if I'd done them in the world championships," he said recently. "I'm getting so I have a sensitivity in my hands, a touch on the steering ropes, that gives me an instinctive feel in my turns down a course."
Albert has long been almost a compulsive athlete, participating while he was at Amherst College in swimming, soccer, fencing, track, judo, rowing, tennis and skiing. "I still felt I was missing something," he said of his college days. "When I was a boy I had dreams of being in the Olympics, and when the chance arose to be involved in this adventure, I jumped at it."
His bobsledding began with a tourist's ride down the St. Moritz run a couple of years ago. "I was a little impressed," said the prince, "meaning scared." But he went back again and again, found that the risk of high speeds was enjoyable and, when a Swiss friend suggested that he could train himself up to Olympic conditions, Albert went for it. Qualifying for the Monaco Winter Olympic team was no problem: It consisted of a single Alpine skier who had competed at Sarajevo. Besides, Albert had a fine Olympic heritage. Not only is he the youngest member of the International Olympic Committee but his grandfather and uncle, the two Jack Kellys of Philadelphia, had also competed in the Games, the senior winning three golds in single and double sculls in '20 and '24, the junior winning a bronze in the single sculls in '56.
Prince Albert's major problem was finding a brakeman-partner for his sled. "I had to find a citizen of Monaco in order for him to be in the Olympics," he recalled, "but we only have a few people to choose from, and you don't find many bobsledders on the Riviera. I went to all the sports clubs and finally tested 10 guys. I found two who seemed fast enough and strong enough."
The prince's No. 1 brakeman is Gilbert Bessi. He is a 29-year-old croupier at the casino in Monte Carlo who is also a sprinter and was Monaco's lone entry in the World Track and Field Championships in Rome last summer.
Albert and Bessi have been training with tenacity since August, doing everything from sprint starts to weightlifting to endless practice on the runs at St. Moritz, Igls and Calgary. Ralph Pichler of Switzerland, who is the reigning world champion in the two-man bob, witnessed the prince's first run at St. Moritz and has closely observed his progress since. "I give him pointers, tell him how I drive the specific curves," says Pichler. "He does what you tell him. But he is not enough of an athlete and he'll never have fast enough starts—not unless he has a gorilla push him. But his declared goal is simple participation, so he is realistic."
Indeed, simple participation is the declared goal of all of the losers who will appear at Calgary. So when you watch a Virgin Island bobsled zig-zag down the run or an anxious Senegalese snowplow down Mount Allan, remind yourself between belly laughs that you are watching the last true Olympic amateurs.