Kaillie Humphries's Olympic gold-medal reign ends in bobsleigh

Canadian and brakeman Phylicia George earn bronze; Germany's Mariama Jamanka wins gold

By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports

Kaillie Humphries's quest for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal ended in disappointment Wednesday, however, the Canadian did reach the podium with a bronze-medal performance in women's bobsleigh.

Looking to become the first bobsledder to capture Winter Games gold three times in the same event, Humphries and rookie brakeman Phylicia George's four-run time of three minutes 22.89 seconds was 44-100ths of a second off the gold-medal clocking of Germany's Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz (3:22.45) at Alpensia Sliding Centre.

"I don't think that this [German] team could have ever predicted, after four heats, to have beaten the likes of Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor," said CBC Sports analyst Helen Upperton. "What a remarkable drive, remarkable pushes.

"The intensity and the nerves and the adrenalin is palpable at the top of that track on that fourth and final run when you're the last sled."

Three weeks ago, Buckwitz became Jamanka's brakeman and Annika Drazek joined pilot Stephanie Schneider as German officials believed the latter duo had the better chance to win gold. Schneider and Drazek finished fourth Wednesday in 3:22.97.

Equipment issues

Equipment is what prevented Humphries from a gold three-peat or silver medal, according to Upperton, the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup bobsleigh race in the 2005-06 season.

"Kaillie and Phylicia George [had] good starts. Great runs by Kaillie as always," she said. "I have to say, I think she outdrove the rest of the field. I think it's an equipment deficit that left [Humphries and George] off the top of the podium."

Humphries switched the runners on her sled for Wednesday, a change that boosted her speed over the final two runs.

"Equipment always plays a factor," she said. "It's one-third of what it takes to win a race. The start, the driving, and the equipment all have to be there and all have to be top notch in order to win. How much of an impact? Who knows? And we'll never know, and that doesn't matter."

​The 30-year-old George, an Olympic hurdler and sprinter from Markham, Ont., who teamed with Humphries after the 2016 Rio Summer Games, also picked up a gold and silver over the final four World Cup races of the season.

"It's been so exciting. She's been an amazing mentor to me, I've just learned so much from her," said George of the 32-year-old Humphries. "To be able to share this with her is amazing."

'Great career'

Added Humphries: "Each experience of the Games is completely different. This medal is extremely special. This one's probably the most personal one for me, the most emotional.

"I know how hard Phylicia and I have really had to work and how hard our team has had to work to get to this position, and we earned the bronze tonight."

With two Olympic gold medals and one silver, Humphries is the most decorated pilot in Canadian bobsleigh history, surpassing Pierre Lueders.

"She's had a great career and probably still more to come," said Upperton of Calgary's Humphries, who is expected to continue racing until at least the 2022 Beijing Olympics. "She's definitely young enough to keep going. It'll be interesting to see what Phylicia George does. She's definitely planning on returning to the hurdles."

Fresh off a fourth overall World Cup season title in five years, Humphries won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and four years later beat Meyers Taylor of the United States by 1-10th of a second for top spot.

'Spectacular athlete'

Humphries, whose fastest start at these Games entering Wednesday was 5.29 seconds, went 5.33 in her final run.

"She lost a lot of time. We saw that too [in the first two runs on Tuesday]," Upperton said. "She was bleeding time at the bottom of the track. Almost unexplainable.

"Phylicia George, in her first-ever season of bobsleigh, giving Kaillie four consistent pushes. Not the fastest, but enough to get on the Olympic podium. Phylicia George is a spectacular athlete for Canada and now she will be an Olympic medallist [for the first time]. Who would have thought in the sport of bobsleigh?"

Humphries clocked 50.52 in her third run to move into medal position, 37-100ths behind Buckwitz and Jamanka, who had never won an international race of any significance.

"A long way from gold," said Upperton, "but Kaillie did a nice job of navigating a nice, smooth third heat."

2 other Canadian sleds in top 10

Meyers Taylor, who surrendered gold to Humphries and brakeman Heather Moyse four years ago in Sochi, Russia, matched her silver-medal showing on Wednesday in 3:22.52 in South Korea. Having already set the track record for the fastest start this week at 5.21 seconds, Meyers Taylor — a friend and training partner of Humphries during the off-season — came in at 5.23 on her final run of 50.73.

The U.S. is the only team to medal at all five Olympic Games since women's bobsleigh debuted in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

Canada's two other entries in the race cracked the top 10, with Alysia Rissling and Moyse leading the way in sixth (3:23.63), while Olympic rookie Christine de Bruin and Melissa Lotholz placed seventh in 3:23.89. Lotholz split time with Humphries this season and has pushed the two-time world champion to six of her victories and 15 World Cup podiums.

"I'm thrilled," said Moyse, clutching a beer while chatting with reporters. "I have zero regrets for this year at all." The 39-year-old came out of retirement last September to serve as brakeman for Rissling, a 29-year-old former basketball player at the University of Alberta.

Wednesday marked the second bobsled medal for Canada in Pyeongchang after Justin Kripps and Alex Kopacz raced Germany's Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis to a stunning gold-medal tie in Monday's two-man event.

The four-man race goes Saturday and Sunday.

With files from The Canadian Press