Kaillie Humphries's 4-woman bobsleigh team could lead to full-time circuit
Opportunity hinges on test event at February's world championships
When two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries brought up the idea of starting an all-female, four-person team to over the Christmas break, Bobsleigh Canada's high performance director smiled.
It was then that the director, Chris Le Bihan, realized a full World Cup circuit for a four-woman division could be within reach, maybe even for next season.
"The conversation in December was initiated by Kaillie, which was awesome," Le Bihan told CBC Sports. "She was like, 'Let's go with four women,' and we sat back with the coaches and [agreed]. You have to look at the bigger picture. This is something we've been trying to initiate for a couple of years now."
Plans were put on hold last season as the sport's world governing body, the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, approved allowing women to compete in the four-man competition with men (a women's two-person event has been in place for years). Humphries and American rival/friend Elana Meyers Taylor became the first women to do so, each piloting a sled containing three men.
However, friction developed prior to this season as Bobsleigh Canada put a new, tougher standard in place for qualifying on the World Cup circuit. Humphries, Canada's third-ranked pilot in the four-man event, behind Justin Kripps and Chris Spring, wasn't happy to be left on the outside.
She vented, publicly. But realizing her federation wouldn't budge, the Calgary native changed course and went to Le Bihan with the suggestion of a full women's team.
After getting clearance from the ISBF, Humphries made more history last Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y.
She teamed with Cynthia Appiah, Genevieve Thibault and Melissa Lotholz to become the first all-female team to compete against men in a World Cup bobsleigh race. Humphries finished last in a 17-team field. But the result wasn't significant. Her team's participation was meant to show the IBSF that a full-time women's event is needed.
"Hopefully next season we can have a full women's four-man circuit, and each race we want to be able to show everybody here — it doesn't matter what track — that girls can compete [in four-man] and we can do it very well," Humphries told CBC Sports after the race.
"That's kind of why we're starting this whole thing. I know that's why [Meyers Taylor] and I started driving with the men last season. ... We really want to be able to open the door so women would have the same opportunities to have two-man and four-man at the Olympic Games, where you've got two medal opportunities. I know for 2018 it won't be possible because the events are already in, but hopefully for 2022."
Test event key to full-time circuit
Humphries plans to race with her all-female crew against the men at two more World Cup events, including at Park City, Utah, this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. The race will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca
But the fate of a women's circuit for next year hinges on a test event during February's world championships in Igls, Austria. The IBSF will be monitoring the competition closely to see how many teams take part before making a decision in the spring. Le Bihan would like to see six to eight teams in order to deem the event viable.
"It's going to depend on what happens in this exhibition race at the end of the season," said Le Bihan. You need so many sleds in World Cup races to make it eligible as a sanctioned event. So it pretty much hinges on that. How many women are going to put together a four-man team for these world championships? I mean, it's hard to tell.
"We're going to do it. We'll probably put two teams in there and that's sort of what we're looking at. The Americans are hot on this trail, too, so hopefully they put two [teams] in. That would put us at four. Then, all of the sudden, other people see it and say. 'We have to do this.' The Germans will follow suit and then some of the other developing sliding nations will hopefully put something together. It's about participation. That's number one."
USA Bobsled/Skeleton confirmed to CBC Sports that it currently has no plans to field an all-women's sled at any remaining World Cup events this season.