Humphries puts win streak on line at Whistler
VANCOUVER — The tattoo on Kaillie Humphries’ hand is just one word but it says plenty.
The tattoo also includes the date, numerically written, when she won two-man bobsled gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympic in Whistler, the same track where she will compete in a World Cup this weekend.
“It’s a slogan, but it’s also a word that I live by,” she said. “I want to remember that day and what it meant.”
So far so good. Including this season and the 2011 campaign, she has driven to five straight two-man victories against the world’s best. One of those victories came in the same event last year.
“(Being defending champion) definitely paints a big bull’s-eye target on my back,” she said this week before going to Whistler. “I’ve got a few of those already. I had one after (the 2010 Olympics) and I still will until (the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi). ... I seem to just paint a few on there, but at the same time, the biggest pressure I place is upon myself.”
Humphries has won both of this season’s two-man World Cups, including Park City, Utah last weekend and Lake Placid a week earlier. Last season’s Whistler win, another World Cup in Calgary, and the 2011 world championships in Lake Placid are also part of the five consecutive victories.
“She’s able to win seemingly at will at the moment,” said Canadian coach Tom De La Hunty. “She’s been a very consistent pilot.”
“I think there’s a lot of things that have contributed to my success,” said Humphries, a 27-year-old Calgary native. “I’m a very driven, focused (and) passionate person.”
Humphries’ drive for five has included two different athletes pulling the brake. This season rookie Chelsea Valois, 25, of Zenon Park, Sask., got the nod by posting the fastest push times at a national team selection camp. De La Hunty said Valois turned up “out of the blue” at the mid-September camp and impressed many.
“We knew immediately we had a bit of a superstar,” said De La Hunty.
Humphries is looking forward to seeing how she and Valois will fare against tough German and American rivals.
“I’m really excited to be home,” said Humphries, who received driver training at Whistler. “I’m really excited for Chelsea to be home. I’m really excited for Chelsea to come back to a track that she knows (from training). Every week (in her case), it’s going to a brand new place and brand new track. Travel is very different for her. She’s from a very small town in Saskatchewan, so she’s never really been abroad or travelled. All of those things are going to affect her this year.”
Humphries’ belief in herself has helped her overcome considerable adversity. The former brakeman turned to driving full-time after a freak leg injury, which occurred after she tripped over a garden hose while warming up at the 2005 World Push Championships in Mexico, rendering her an alternate pusher at the 2006 Turin Games — a role that proved difficult because she “wasn’t the slowest girl there.”
She also suffered a broken collarbone in a crash when she briefly attempted driving before returning to her brakeman role.
Humphries, who has limited sponsorship and supplemental public-speaking income that enables her to earn a modest living as a full-time bobsledder, credits her two sisters and a small Bobsleigh Canada support staff for her success. They help her re-focus when she gets a little tired and “scatterbrained.”
Her other hardships were emotional, but also quite painful. The former ski racer, who turned to bobsled when she was 17, dealt with bullying while she was growing up.
“You get the jello put in your butt at camps. You get the name-calling — and when I started, even, within bobsled,” she said.
“I was the youngest by probably over 10 years. ...
“You see a lot of kids, and society in general, that take everything to the extreme. I do it in my sport in day-to-day living, but people do it in personal lives — and there is just no place for it. ... I feel I’m finally at a point where I, hopefully, have a little bit of a voice, and I need to use it.”
On the men’s side, top Canadian bobsled driver Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, Sask., will try to excel again at the site of his 2010 Olympic bronze-medal win. Last weekend, he crashed in Park City while enjoying a big lead in the two-man event.
De La Hunty called Rush and former CFL star Jesse Lumsden, who placed 20th in Lake Placid, “a great team.” Noting their start times are among the fastest in the world, Lumsden said he and Rush have had trouble adjusting to a new sled, but suggested they can make the necessary adjustments to runners and other parts.
“You can’t build a sled and expect it to be fast,” Lumsden said. “You’ve got to figure out all sorts of different things, because we’re dealing with hundredths of a second.”
Rush placed a disappointing 12th in four-man in Park City and seventh in Lake Placid. De La Hunty predicted Rush will have a strong weekend at Whistler.
The coach is planning to shuffle his brakemen on four-man sleds in a bid to get top results from all three Canadian units.
A men’s and women’s skeleton World Cup will be held in conjunction with the bobsled competition.