YANQING There was only one Kaillie Humphries, and she stood alone. She always has, in more or less every way: she has always been the most ruthless killer in a sport full of them, a constant Olympics after Olympics, and the only real difference this time were her colours. Canada’s greatest bobsledder is an American now.
The rest is more or less the same, even as it was new. In the first Olympic monobob race, Humphries simply laid waste to the field. After two Sunday runs, the gap between first and second — Canadian Christine de Bruin, as it happened — was just fractions larger than the gap between second and ninth. After three runs, the gap was bigger. This is a sport decided by fractions of a second so small you can’t see them. It’s slicing time as thin as you can.
This was a chasm. Canada’s de Bruin, the veteran from Edmonton, fell from second to third on her final run and got bronze behind American Elana Meyers Taylor, which was nonetheless an achievement: it was de Bruin’s first Olympic medal, at age 32. Cynthia Appiah, the second Canadian driver, was eighth.
Humphries, at 36, remains the class of her sport and it was, after all these years, Kaillie Humphries in full. Like many a driver, her ruthlessness extended to her partners; Humphries has steadily discarded brakemen between Olympics and her most steady partner, two-time two-woman gold medallist Heather Moyse, refused a shot to win another gold in Pyeongchang to preserve her own happiness, her own mental health. Moyse finished sixth with driver Alysia Rissling in 2018, and was downright giddy afterward.
“Success, to me, is about doing something with someone you want to do it with, and doing what you want to do, and how you want to do it, for the reasons that are right for you,” Moyse said that night in Pyeongchang. “So it might be strange to some people but coming sixth with Alysia is more rewarding than having potentially medalled with someone else.”
Imagine having treated someone so badly they’d be thrilled with sixth, after having experienced gold. Maybe the split with Canada was inevitable: The program hadn’t been fully healthy in a long time, and has since tried to establish a more communicative and equitable system, but in the pre-Pyeongchang world Canada Bobsleigh was the kind of place where brakeman Lascelles Brown split with Canadian great Pierre Lueders after a silver in Turin in 2006 and was asked what it would take to get him back in the sled, and Brown said, “If Jesus Christ stood at the bottom of the course and told me to do it, I’d do it.”
So maybe Humphries was playing, in her own way, by the rules of the game. In Pyeongchang, Humphries alluded to issues, and was asked whether success meant she got her way on coaching, brakemen, equipment, therapy, priority. She said, “Sometimes it does, and sometimes I’m not the team, and I get outvoted, in which case it gets very hard and very political. And in those situations I really question what I’m doing, why I’m here.”
Sometimes I’m not the team. The harassment suit against Bobsleigh Canada coach Todd Hays came after that. The details have been kept under wraps since they were filed in 2019, as it should be. But when some initial claims were made, several were refuted by then-members of the Canadian team. The theme was that Humphries demanded special treatment and that caused much of the friction.
Her version is she was verbally berated by Hays without reason. Humphries was often at odds with Bobsleigh Canada over her demand to compete with men; she had to pay her own coach, Stu McMillan, when Bobsleigh Canada argued she would be fine with federation coaches. There were scrapes, and eventually Humphries forced her way out of her own country.
Whatever the resolution of all the lawsuits and allegations, Humphries has triumphed. When she was still competing for Canada, younger drivers used to say that she was not much of a mentor, and not just because of the ruthless style; Humphries simply could not explain how she saw a track, how she drove it better than anybody else. She just had a feel for driving a sled down an ice chute that nobody else had.
In her runs here, Humphries did not have the world’s greatest push. That belonged to Meyers Taylor. But this is a long track, and a driving track, and part of the rules in introducing monobob is that if you wanted to compete in the two-man race, you had to be in this one. Humphries and Meyers Taylor had a huge part in pushing this addition to the program; they fought for it in the name of equality, and deserve credit for that.
But what a day for an apex predator. Kaillie Humphries created an event where she didn’t need anybody else, in which her rivals were forced to compete if they wanted to compete in their traditional events, and instead of a brakeman she discarded a country. She got everything she wanted.