Humphries wins bobsleigh gold in Calgary

Kaillie Humphries of Calgary piloted Canada to a second straight win in women's World Cup bobsled Friday.
Kaillie Humphries, left, and her brakeman Jennifer Ciochetti, celebrate their win following the women's World Cup bobsleigh event in Calgary. (The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

Kaillie Humphries and Jennifer Ciochetti struck gold in World Cup bobsled on Friday in their first race together.

Ciochetti is working on becoming a sled pilot, but the 27-year-old from Edmonton returned to her former job as brakeman for the World Cup finale in Calgary and also for next week's world championship in Lake Placid, N.Y.

National team coaches felt Ciochetti's pushing abilities meshed with the driving skills of Humphries, the reigning Olympic champion.

"Jenny is one of the most talented athletes I know," Humphries said. "She's focused all her energy on driving and has really made huge progress in the driving department. Definitely one I'm going to have to watch out for."

They'd made just five passes down the Calgary Olympic Park track together in training before making their World Cup debut as a duo.

But Humphries and Ciochetti posted a winning two-run time of one minute 53.28 seconds and a top speed of 127.80 kilometres per hour in their opening pass.

"We're both fierce competitors and both talented athletes so as long as we do our jobs and work together, which we did today, we knew it could be successful," said Humphries.

It was the second victory in Canada in as many weeks for Humphries, who won with Emily Baadsvik in Whistler, B.C — on the same track where the Calgarian won her Olympic gold two year ago.

German sleds were second and third behind the Canadians. The team of Anja Schneiderheinze and brakeman Lisette Thoene were runners-up in 1:53.46. Sandra Kiriasis and Petra Lammert finished in 1:53.54.

Cathleen Martini led a German sweep of the top three spots in the women's overall World Cup standings, with Schneiderheinze and Kiriasis finishing second and third respectively. Martini and Janine Tischer were fifth Friday.

It was the first crystal globe for Martini, the defending world champion.

"It's a really good feeling," Martini said. "A lot of years of hard work."

Switzerland's Beat Hefti and Thomas Lamparter won both the two-man event and clinched the season title in Calgary. Their margin of victory over Germany's Manual Machata and Andreas Bredau was a scant .01 seconds.

"It was very close. You can't get closer in bobsled," Lamparter said. "We're very happy to win both the race and the World Cup."

Maximilian Arndt and Kevin Kuske of Germany were .26 seconds off the lead in third and finished second in the standings to the Swiss.

Lyndon Rush of Humboldt, Sask., and Jesse Lumdsen of Burlington, Ont., missed the podium by .07 seconds in fourth. Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., and Derek Plug of Calgary were eighth.

The World Cup in Calgary concludes Saturday with four-man bobsled.

Ciochetti was once a regular brakeman for Calgary's Helen Upperton, who was fourth in the women's race with Shelly-Ann Brown of Pickering, Ont., on Friday.

"It's a bit hard because I really like driving," Ciochetti said. "It's hard to transition back to where I've come from, but Kaillie is an awesome pilot and I was excited. I thought we'd do really well together and so far, that's been proven."

Two of Humphries' three wins this season were in Canada with the other in La Plagne, France in December. The 26-year-old ended up fifth in the season standings.

She's taken silver and two bronze in previous world championships. Humphries will chase that elusive gold next week in Lake Placid.

"Great momentum going in," Humphries said. "I think Jenny and I are going to do everything in our power to really capitalize on that at worlds."

Heather Patterson of Guelph, Ont., and Calgary's Kate O'Brien were 15th.

Upperton and Brown won Olympic silver behind Humphries and Heather Moyse in Whistler. Upperton is 32 and Brown 31. The duo almost didn't compete at all this season and got a late start.

"What brought me back? The missing medal at world championships," Upperton said. "I didn't really feel finished.

"Shelly always talks about how she loves sliding in Lake Placid and most of the brakemen think she's completely nuts because it's a very hard, bumpy track."

Upperton has won 18 World Cup medals, but the closest she has come to a world championship medal was fourth in 2008 and 2009 with Ciochetti on the brake.

WinSport Canada, which oversees all Canada Olympic Park facilities, is giving a $5,000 bonus to Canadian athletes who finish on the World Cup podium in any event held at COP. The Sarah Burke Performance Award is given in memory of the Canadian freestyle skier who died last month of injuries from training.

Humphries and Ciochetti will split the award for their victory. Amy Gough of Abbotsford, B.C., was a recipient Thursday for finishing third in women's skeleton.