From upstart to legend: The evolution of Kaillie Humphries
Canadian bobsled star on the verge of Olympic history
Kaillie Humphries can pinpoint the exact moment when being an Olympic bobsleigh champion simply wasn’t enough.
Still euphoric from winning the 2010 Olympic gold medal with brakeman Heather Moyse in Vancouver, the intensely driven athlete felt complacent the following season. That all changed at the 2011 world championship in Koenigssee, Germany.
Standing on the podium in the third-place position while seeing German Cathleen Martini and American Shauna Rohbock occupy the gold and silver medal spots, respectively, was just the tonic the Calgary native needed to shake off her malaise.
“To get beat, that sucked,” said Humphries. “That’s when I can say the losing was the worst, and everything changed very quickly. Other goals started to creep up, and then all of the sudden, there was still a lot I wanted to achieve within the sport. I wanted to win world championships, I wanted to win World Cup events and the overall titles. I wanted to defend [the Olympic title]. No woman has defended it in our sport, ever, from any nation. So after that very first year it became more about defending the title.”
It also became about much more than winning competitions. Humphries was set on making history.
Beginning with the 2012 World Cup event in Whistler, B.C., Humphries won eight consecutive international races — the longest women’s streak ever — with three different brakemen, including five with rookie Chelsea Valois.
The streak stretched into last season and didn’t end until a third-place finish in Altenberg, Germany, on Jan. 4. The bronze medal initially angered Humphries as she narrowly finished behind Martini and silver medallist Sandra Kiriasis of Germany.
But with the encouragement of national driving coach Stephan Bosch, she was finally able to appreciate her unprecedented accomplishment, albeit using an analytical approach.
“Consistency for us has always been a big word that we’ve always really focused on,” said the two-time world champion. “We understand the plan and process masterminded by Stephan. We finally figured it out last year. My driving skills and confidence all kind of mixed in together and that’s the consistency part coming through. It all just kind of fell into place.”
Helen Upperton, the 2010 silver medallist for Canada and CBC Sports bobsleigh analyst for Sochi, saw Humphries’ potential early on as a brakeman. “She always had this massive competitive drive,” said Upperton. “She always wanted to be the best as she was relentlessly perusing this goal. She has just an extreme intense focus and determination. I’ve never seen anybody study and visualize [the track] like her.”
Pundits of the sport say it takes about a decade to develop a top flight pilot. Humphries’ success on the world stage has come quicker than most pilots' — although she’ll be the first to concede her triumphs are not the work of one person.
Since becoming a full-time pilot in the 2007-08 season, Humphries has been blessed with great coaches — led by Bosch — talented brakemen, and world class Eurotech-engineered bobsleds.
Humphries, Moyse to reunite
For the start of the World Cup season in November, Humprhies will reunite with Moyse as the pairing would announced Wednesday by Bobsleigh Canada.
The decision to reunite the gold medallists was likely an easy one. Moyse, 35, who returns after having surgery in 2012 to repair a torn labrum in her right hip, posted a record push-start time during the selection races at the Whistler Sliding Centre early this month. And at full strength, the native of Summerside, P.E.I., is one of the best brakemen in the world.
The power and speed of both athletes will be a huge advantage when the Sochi Olympics take place in February. The Canadian team will spend nearly two weeks in November testing the venue before the World Cup season begins on Nov. 30 in Calgary.
The Sochi venue is not long or technically difficult, but fast times are hard to achieve due to some uphill sections, making quick push starts essential.
That’s where Moyse will play a pivotal role.
“Things are just super easy with Heather,” said Humphries. “She’s an amazing person and an unbelievable athlete. She brings that intensity, she knows high-performance sport and she knows how to get the very best of herself. I think that we match each other. I know I can stand on the [bobsled] line and I don’t have to teach her a thing.”
Together, the two Canadians can make Olympic history if they repeat as Olympic champions. While they’ll get stiff challenges from Kiriasis — the all-time winningest women’s driver — and American Elana Meyers, Humphries will be a heavy favourite to win gold.
Should she reach the top of the Olympic podium again her final goal would be within reach: to leave the legacy as sport’s greatest pilot.
“That comes solely from a personal side,” said Humphries. “I don’t do it as a way to showboat and try to prove to people that I’m the best. It’s not about that. It’s about me personally knowing and understanding what I’ve accomplished.”