Sports

FIBT rules women can compete in 4-man bobsled

FIBT, the world governing body for bobsleigh, confirmed Thursday that it plans to open the four-man competitions to mixed gender teams on the World Cup circuit.

Mixed-gender teams could debut in mid-December at Calgary

Two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries of Calgary will soon be able to pilot a four-man bobsled in World Cup competition. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Call it four-man bobsled still, but women can start taking part in the event this season.

FIBT, the world governing body for bobsleigh, has opened the four-man competitions to mixed gender teams. 

Teams consisting of a female pilot driving and men push-starting the bob could now be seen on the World Cup circuit from December and at the world championships in February.

"I strongly believe women can drive a four-man and be competitive," FIBT president Ivo Ferriani said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"For us, it's the natural evolution of our sport."

The rule change will likely only impact pilot choices. It's believed most teams would still use three male push athletes with a female driver.

Kaillie Humphries of Calgary, the two-time Olympic champion in women's bobsled — a two-person sled — has been one of the most vocal about her desire to have the chance at getting behind the controls of a four-man sled and has pushed for the rule change for some time.

"It's something that will challenge me physically and mentally to step up my game," Humphries said in a phone interview Thursday.

"I don't want to ever become complacent and I know this is a challenge that will not allow that to happen."

"Wanting to leave a legacy, for me, that is very important," she continued. "Opening the door for women to be able to compete in the four-man event ... bridges the gap."

Previously, women competed only in two-athlete bobs and men competed in twos and fours.

There are no plans for adding fours to the all-female competitions, but Ferriani said the rules are open on what the gender balance can be in a four-member crew on the men's circuit.

"At the moment, we don't have any limits,"  Ferriani said. "I think, personally, a woman pilot with three men can be strong."

'“We follow the spirit and movements of our time. There is a strong belief in the FIBT that men and women can compete together in 4-man." - FIBT president Ivo Ferriani

The 2018 Winter Olympics staged in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is a natural target for mixed teams, though Ferriani cautioned it was "too soon to create too much speculation."

"It's important to make the first step — to analyze the situation and give the opportunity and to have some terms of reference."

Ferriani said mixed teams could first take part in World Cup races at a mid-December meet in Calgary.

"They must prove in the qualification process they're at the right level," he said.

After the eight-meeting World Cup circuit, the world championships will be held Feb. 23-Mar. 1 in Winterberg, Germany.


'Ensure more gender equality'

Calling it a "huge" move for the sport, Elana Meyers Taylor was thrilled with the announcement — a major win for top pilots like her and Humphries.

"I am ecstatic about the opportunity to drive a four-man," said Meyers Taylor, a two-time women's bobsled Olympic medallist from Douglasville, Ga.

"Personally, I'm excited for a new challenge as an athlete and a bobsled pilot. This goes a long way to ensure more gender equality in our sport, which is very refreshing.

"I realize it will take a lot of work to compete at the highest level, but I'm ready to go for it."

The notion has been floated by some women's pilots for years and with a new season looming, talk had picked up again in recent weeks among supporters of the rule change.

Sliders from Canada and the U.S. seemed to be among the most ardent supporters of allowing women to race alongside and against men.

"I think there's some fear that it changes the four-man, [but] I don't think that's realistic," U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele said. "My point of view [is], If a woman is good enough to jump in a four-man and compete with the guys, more power to her.

"I think those that have the ability are going to be few in number, but if they've got the ability and want to do it, then why get in the way?"


'This will create some excitement'

Humphries and Heather Moyse won the women's gold at the Sochi Games followed by a pair of American sleds — Meyers Taylor with Lauryn Williams and Jamie Greubel with pusher Aja Evans.

A two-man bobsled handles much differently than a four-man does.

Steven Holcomb, the 2010 Olympic champion from Park City, Utah, has likened driving a two-man to a sports car and a four-man to a school bus.

Steele said he has concerns that some may underestimate the difficulty of driving a four-man sled, though has no doubt some women can be competitive.

"This will create some excitement," he said.

"The feeling will be completely different," Humphries said. "The sled is longer, the weight is a lot greater [and] now we've got three guys pushing at the beginning, not just for the added weight, but also the starts are faster, the velocity is greater, the G-force, the impact on your body is greater."

The World Cup season opens at Lake Placid, N.Y., in December. It's possible, though not assured, that women may be in four-man sleds for that race. Women's pilots would still have to show proficiency — just as male pilots would — in a four-man before they could be entered into a World Cup competition in that discipline.

There are some lower-tier races in North America and Europe before the World Cup opener and those events could give women enough time to qualify to drive four-man in Lake Placid. Women's pilots could also appeal to have certain portions of the qualifying criteria waived.

"This will create some excitement," Steele said.

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