Kaillie Humphries was bullied, left out — now she's on the verge of Olympic bobsleigh history

Canadian pilot going for her third consecutive gold

By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports

Kaillie Humphries launched her bobsleigh career as a brakeman charged with pushing the sled for her older, more experienced counterparts.

Now 32 and a decorated pilot, Humphries continues to cement her status as a trailblazer in her sport.

Should she claim gold in Pyeongchang, Humphries will become the first bobsledder — male or female — to win Olympic gold three times in the same event.

The competition starts with the first two heats on Tuesday (6:50 a.m. ET), followed by the second and final two heats on Wednesday (6:40 a.m. ET)

"My mindset is to keep it simple," Humphries told reporters in Pyeongchang. "That's how I went into 2010 and 2014 and how I will approach this Games."

The Calgary native captured two gold and two silver medals on the World Cup circuit this season — giving her a record 48 in her career — to secure her fourth overall title.

"Yes, I've got the experience, but every Olympics is completely different," said Humphries, who is teaming up with former track star Phylicia George in her quest for gold at the Alpensia Sliding Centre. "Our team is different, the venues and the weather are different so there's not much comparison."

Not much comparison, minus the fact the Canada-1 pilot is one of the most dominant, driven athletes of her generation. 

"My fiercest competitor," Humphries says on her personal website, "has always been me."

Rejection is the rocket fuel for a career that will go down as spectacular — regardless of her results in Pyeongchang. As a young girl, she dreamed of one day representing Canada in alpine ski racing.

But life on the mountain was tough, as she never felt accepted by the "cool" kids in the program. Bullying was an unfortunate fact of life for the future Olympic champion.

At ski camps, she often found Jello shoved in her sleeping bag and she rode the chairlift, more often than not, by herself. 

"The hardest part is that you can't be anybody," she told CBC Sports before the Games. "You just have to sit in the corner and just be a nobody or be a ghost. When you're young and growing up and you don't know why you're not liked — or why your best friends are 40-year-old coaches or the parents of other kids — it's not easy."

Cruel sport

Humphries switched to bobsleigh at 17 and clawed her way onto the national team. By 21, she was on the verge of competing in her first Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Bobsleigh, however, is a cruel sport. Fates are determined by hundredths of seconds and it's not unusual for an athlete to be sacrificed — sometimes at the last moment — in favour of someone deemed even the slightest bit faster off the start.

That's what transpired in Turin, as Heather Moyse bumped Humphries from Helen Upperton's sled to the sidelines.

Reeling and disillusioned, Humphries initially considered joining the British bobsleigh team. Instead, she enrolled in driving school in hopes of controlling her own fate.

The strategy worked.

In a show of dominance, Humphries won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with Moyse as her brakeman — leading from the first run to beat her Canadian teammate Upperton. Four years later in Sochi, the pair roared from behind to beat American Elana Meyers Taylor by one-10th of a second.

Humphries and Moyse carried the flag together in the Sochi closing ceremony, but even then the tension between the two was palpable.

Smiles in public? Yes. Disagreements in private? Also yes.

3 Canadian sleds in the mix

Given the friction, bobsleigh insiders were hardly shocked last September when Moyse opted to come out of retirement for Pyeongchang as a brakeman for rising star Alysia Rissling instead of Humphries.

"When Kaillie asked me last March to come back to bobsleigh, I was done. I was over it," Moyse told reporters in Pyeongchang. "I wasn't motivated to come back. I had started to develop a full-time business coaching and mentoring to empower other people."

Then came a surprise Instagram message from Rissling, asking Moyse to consider joining her as a brakeman and mentor.

"I wasn't motivated to come back and see if I could just do anything, that I could win a third Olympic medal," Moyse said. "My motivation came from the idea of seeing if I could help somebody else win their first one."

Canada actually has three women's sleds in the mix for medals in Pyeongchang and all three have a legitimate shot at the podium.

Humphries and George finished first in both heats on the first official day of training. Christine De Bruin and Melissa Lotholz then surprised as the top Canadians the following day by placing fourth in one training heat and third in the other. 

The 39-year-old Moyse created a stir on Monday by skipping the final day of training. With reserve brakeman Cynthia Appiah providing the push, Rissling finished as the top Canadian and second overall.

"She didn't come here today, but 100 per cent we will race tomorrow," Rissling said of Moyse. "We're just trying to take the load off.

"The most important thing is she knows what works for her and that might not necessarily work for anyone else."

Three Canadian sleds. Three legitimate medal contenders.

Let the racing begin.