Kaillie Humphries is still searching for the perfect start
2-time Olympic champ continues auditioning brakemen after 'rough' season
Kaillie Humphries is the first to say she had a rough year.
The Canadian bobsleigh star speaks without restraint the day after returning home from the season's final World Cup event.
"No season is perfect," Humphries says from Calgary, with her usual resolute tone.
"You gotta go through those hard years, and those rough years, and this year for me was one of them."
To be fair, the two-time Olympic champion has high standards.
Though she won two races and finished on the podium at five of the eight World Cup stops this season, Humphries failed to defend her title.
She came into last week's season finale in Pyeongchang, South Korea — which doubled as an Olympic test event — leading the World Cup rankings. But a disappointing fifth-place finish, coupled with a win by Jamie Greubel-Poser, gave the title to the U.S. pilot.
Humphries was also beaten by three hundredths of a second by American rival/friend Elana Meyers Taylor at the world championships in February.
The Canadian admits to being thrown off by the shifted schedule this season. The event in Pyeongchang demanded a later start to the World Cup season, and almost three months on the road.
"The hardest part about this season was just the length of time away," says the 31-year-old, who says it was the longest travel period in her 14 years on the World Cup tour.
"Everybody by the end of the season was just ready to call it quits."
Yet the Calgarian says she bore down while at the 2018 Olympic track in Korea.
Even with their bodies breaking down, she and breakman Melissa Lotholz drove the track as much as possible. She says coming fifth at the event wasn't a surprise to her.
"It was never about the finish," Humphries says. "We went into it knowing it was about learning that track for the Games."
The extra training days also verified one particular hypothesis.
"We knew the start was going to be important in Korea," says Humphries. "Having been there, now we realize how important the start is. Definitely the brakemen are going to play a huge part at the Olympics."
Brakeman auditions continue
A bobsleigh start is where the pilot and brakeman thrust the sled forward before hopping in.
It lasts around five seconds, with the intensity of a rugby scrum, and can make or break a run.
The ideal brakeman has quickness, power and size — qualities possessed by Heather Moyse, who helped push Humphries to both Olympic gold medals but is now retired.
Lotholz, from Barrhead, Alb., has been filling the role for Humphries for most of the last three seasons.
Toronto's Cynthia Appiah also pushed for Humphries at four World Cups this season.
"The last three years I've seen Melissa and Cynthia come a long way from where they started, which is amazing to see," says Humphries.
"Knowing next year is the Olympic year and how important the start is, I know there's a lot more that they need to grow and that they need to learn for us to defend the title."
Humphries is unapologetically selective when it comes to the business of winning.
"I don't sacrifice the way I do [things] for friendship or fun," she says. "I do it to win."
She has talked with Olympic sprinter Phylicia George, and is eager to seek out other world-class athletes in hopes of finding the person who can optimize her start times for Pyeongchang 2018.
"At the end of the day my brakeman for next year is going to be chosen on numbers," says Humphries.
"The fastest two girls that we have come October will battle it out throughout the season, and the Olympic brakeman will get chosen about a month before the Games."