Champion female bobsledder awaits male crew
CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Kaillie Humphries is getting ready for a new sort of run.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist in women's bobsled will make her World Cup debut in the four-man bobsled next month in Calgary. She has set Dec. 20 as the target date for her first World Cup race as a four-man pilot with an all-male crew.
''It's going to take some time and I've got to prove to these guys I know what I'm doing,'' Humphries said. ''The only way is to get them down safely and fast in a race-day scenario.''
The sport's world governing body said in September that the four-man will become ''gender neutral,'' allowing for mixed teams and all-female teams to compete against men.
Women's bobsled was introduced as an Olympic sport in 2002 as a two-person event while the men continued to race two-man and four-man sleds.
Humphries and teammates D.J. McLelland, Dan Dale and Joey Nemet are competing Sunday in Calgary in two races on the North America Cup developmental circuit.
They finished sixth and eighth in their first two races last Saturday and Sunday in Park City, Utah. They were third at the Canadian championship last month.
''Four-man is so sweet,'' Humphries said after training Thursday in her Calgary hometown. ''These Americas Cup (races) are about qualifying for the World Cup and getting to compete on the World Cup for the full season this year. That's success.''
Humphries isn't alone in breaking the four-man gender barrier. Olympic silver medalist Elana Meyers Taylor of the U.S. placed seventh and sixth with a male crew in Park City, Utah, and is competing in Calgary this week.
Humphries hasn't quit the women's event, which is contested in a two-man sled only. She says the big sled can be a smoother ride, provided it's driven properly.
''If you're on the right line, it's amazing,'' she said. ''If you're on the wrong line, good luck, you have no chance,'' she said.
Humphries and brakeman Heather Moyse defended their Olympic title in Sochi, Russia, in February after taking the gold four years ago in Whistler, British Columbia.
Humphries will attempt a three-peat in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. She's won 11 of her 15 career World Cup races as well as two women's world championships.
To graduate to the World Cup, pilots must compete in five races on three different tracks in a two-year span on either the Americas Cup or Europa Cup circuits.
Humphries is accelerating through those requirements. She'll travel to La Plagne, France, in early December for Europa Cup races on the required third track.
She'll race the women's event at the first World Cup stop Dec. 8-13 in Lake Placid, New York, but not in four-man. The travel turnaround from France to Lake Placid is too tight for her. She'd rather wait until the following week in Calgary to race four-man on her home track.
''It comes down to safety,'' Humphries explained. ''I need to be fully switched on.''
After setting their sled atop the Canada Olympic Park track Thursday for their first run, Humphries said little to her crewmen. She stood still and mentally rehearsed her run. But she was smiling and animated afterward, analyzing the run with her male crew.
''She's a great pilot and it's an opportunity to go on the World Cup in my first year,'' said Daniel, who came to bobsled from hockey and played two seasons for the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos.
''It's good for me because it's my first year in the sport and it's Kaillie's first year in four-man so it's a learning experience for both of us,'' Dale added. ''We're helping each other out along the way, along with the other brakemen.''
The decision to allow women into four-man sleds came so quickly that Canada's bobsled and skeleton officials are still unsure what will constitute a successful showing by Humphries this winter.
''If we said we're expecting her to go out and medal right away, I think that's not the right mindset for right now,'' head coach Chris LeBihan said.
''There's still a learning curve for her. All these tracks, she's nailed it in two-man, but four-man is different. We're using this year so she can gain skill of driving four-man.''