Kaillie Humphries cements status as bobsleigh great with Olympic monobob gold

Kaillie Humphries of the United States validated her reputation as one of the best pilots in the history of bobsleigh, surging to victory in the debut of women’s monobob and adding a third Olympic gold to her career haul with a strong chance for a fourth by week’s end.

The 36-year-old, who captured two-woman golds with Canada in 2010 and 2014 before joining the US team in 2019, finished with a four-run combined time of 4min, 19.27 sec to win by 1.54sec, the widest margin in any bobsleigh event in 42 years. She becomes the second athlete to win a Winter Olympic title for two different countries, joining short track speed skater Victor An.

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Elena Meyers Taylor, the 37-year-old mother from Georgia who put down a scintillating time on her third run to move into bronze medal position, was even cleaner on her fourth descent to claim the silver, finishing 1.32sec behind Humphries and ensuring the United States’ first one-two finish in any Olympic bobsleigh event since 1932.

Canada’s Christine de Bruin entered Monday’s final runs in second place but a yawning 1.04sec behind Humphries, by far the biggest halfway lead in Olympic women’s bobsleigh history. She was unable to match Meyers Taylor’s blistering starts and settled for bronze despite a pair of clean runs, coming in 1.76sec off the pace and completing a rare North American podium for the sport.

Australia’s Bree Walker completed a memorable Olympic debut with a fifth-placed finish, her country’s best ever performance in bobsleigh.Advertisementhttps://a5664e1bdd219f32119b0bd0228103fd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The day amounted to a victory lap for Humphries, whose 130kg sled careened to speeds in excess of 75mph near the bottom of the daunting course known as the Flying Snow Dragon on her third run. She then played it safer on her final trip to bring home the gold by the largest winning margin at an Olympics since Switzerland’s Erich Schärer won the two-man event by 1.57sec in 1980.

She sprung from her sled after sliding into the finish area and hoisted an American flag above her head amid chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” from the gallery, a third Olympic gold in her possession and the hot favourite to add another in the two-man event later this week.

“This one does feel more emotional for me,” Humphries said afterward. “Although each Olympic journey has been different, I’ve had to choose to walk away from my original birth nation. I’ve had to fight. There have been a lot of people that have tried to stand in my way. And there have been a lot of obstacles to get to this point.

“And so to know that everybody that supported me and that all the work that I put in has amounted to being the best year, it’s very heartwarming to say the least. It hits the heartstrings a little bit more to know that I chose a nation and it chose me back and that we could do this together as a team.”

Humphries and Meyers Taylor, two of the most decorated pilots of their generation, had initially campaigned for the addition of a four-man event to the Olympic programme eight years ago with the intent of offering women the same medal opportunities as men, even driving four-man sleds against men’s teams to make their point.

But international officials opted for the addition of women’s monobob instead – where only the driver is in the sled – citing the lack of depth in female bobsleigh programs globally and framing it as a better choice to increase diversity.

“This is huge,” Humphries said. “I still remember back in 2002, the first women who won: Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers. I hope in the future young girls are going to go, ‘I remember Kaillie’, and then they get involved. They now have two opportunities and hopefully even more opportunities to win more medals in the sport. That’s super cool and I will continue to fight for that. The women before me have allowed this to happen and I want to make sure that continues for all future generations.

“This is a huge step forward. By no means do I think we’re done. I really want to see women do four-woman and I would love to see men do monobob as well. Three events for all genders.

“To know that in a couple days we get to go back and do this all over again with two-woman, I’m really excited at that challenge and to be able to have that opportunity. So I’m very grateful to everybody who made this event happen and I look forward to all women, long past when I’m retired, being able to have this opportunity to pursue themselves.”

The journey to Monday’s podium was anything but a smooth run for both of the women who topped it.

Humphries, who is married to an American, joined the US national team after a protracted two-year saga in which she alleged she was verbally and mentally abused by a Canadian official to the point where she no longer felt safe as a member of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, the sport’s national governing body. An initial investigation found there was insufficient evidence to support the claims against the official, who denies the allegations. However an arbitrator subsequently found the initial probe “was neither thorough nor reasonable”, and the matter remains under investigation.

Meyers Taylor, already the only woman to win three Olympic bobsled medals for the US before Monday’s fourth and the mother of a special-needs toddler, was selected as a flagbearer for Team USA along with curler John Shuster but was forced into isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 upon arrival at Beijing, which limited her opportunities to get to know the course and kept her apart from her two-year-old son longer than ever before.

“I came out today knowing I had absolutely nothing to lose,” Meyers Taylor said. “The difference between fourth and 20th wasn’t going to make a difference. All I had to do was lay it all on the line and that’s exactly what I did. I just went out there, enjoyed the heck out of this race and fortunately it paid off.”

She added: “Two days ago, I said to my coach Brian Shimer, I sat on one of the containers and said, ‘I don’t even know if I should do this right now’. I was that bad mentally, I was that put out, I didn’t know if I could, I didn’t know if I should. My runs showed it, my runs were just terrible and I just couldn’t clear my head. There was so much fog in my head from everything that had been going on. I was really questioning whether I should come out. Thanks to my team. Thanks to everybody. They lifted me up and they lifted me up to silver medal.”

Only five US Olympians have won more medals at the Winter Games than Meyers Taylor’s four: Apolo Ohno (eight), Bonnie Blair (six), Bode Miller (six), Eric Heiden (five) and Chad Hedrick (five).

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