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Justin Kripps defends Bobsleigh Canada culture after Kaillie Humphries lawsuit

Current Canadian bobsleigh athletes are speaking out in support of Bobsleigh Canada's culture following Kaillie Humphries's allegations regarding head coach Todd Hays. In a statement, Olympic champion bobsleigh athlete Justin Kripps says "all the returning national team members" he's talked to feel they "train and compete in a safe and supportive environment."

'Athletes and coaches worked together and supported each other,' Kripps says

Justin Kripps, shown at right in this November 2017 file photo, defended Bobsleigh Canada's culture on Saturday, saying in a statement that 'in my 13 years in the sport I’ve never experienced a better culture than we’ve had over the last couple of years.' (Kevin Light for CBC Sports)

Current Canadian bobsleigh athletes are speaking out in support of Bobsleigh Canada's culture following Kaillie Humphries's allegations regarding head coach Todd Hays.

Humphries, 34, filed a harassment complaint with the organization last August, alleging Hays was mentally and emotionally abusive.

In a statement, Olympic champion bobsleigh athlete Justin Kripps says "all the returning national team members" he's talked to feel they "train and compete in a safe and supportive environment."

"In my 13 years in the sport I've never experienced a better culture than we've had over the last couple of years," he said.

WATCH | Kripps defends Bobsleigh Canada culture:

Canadian bobsleigh athlete Justin Kripps speaks out in support of Bobsleigh Canada's culture following Kaillie Humphries's allegations regarding head coach Todd Hays. 2:28

Current team members Cynthia Appiah as well as Alysia Rissling reiterated Kripps's comments on Twitter.

"I can't comment on the harassment case, but Kripps's comments do resonate with returning athletes that are currently on the team," Appiah posted.

"The culture on the team has had a remarkably different and upward tone since the 2017/2018 season."

Hays took over as head coach of the Canadian team beginning in 2017. Humphries claims it was during the 2017-18 season she was emotionally, verbally and mentally abused by Hays.

WATCH | Kaillie Humphries ready to move on from Bobsleigh Canada

CBC Sports' Devin Heroux breaks down Kaillie Humphries's decision to leave Bobsleigh Canada and the lawsuit she filed after having her request to be released denied. 2:05

She took last season off from competition awaiting a resolution on an internal investigation into her allegations being conducted by Bobsleigh Canada. The organization says it has yet to complete that investigation. Humphries has since been asked to be released from the team and says Bobsleigh Canada is blocking her from doing that – she plans to compete for the United States.

Humphries is now suing the sport organization. In court documents filed by Humphries and her legal team, she names Hays and outlines several occasions during the 2017-18 season when she claims the harassment occurred. Bobsleigh Canada has yet to file a statement of defence.

"After over an hour of verbal insults attacking me personally and professionally in a public place with people watching, I began to cry out of frustration, hurt feelings, and astonishment at what he was saying," Humphries said in court documents.

Changing the culture

Kripps says improving team cohesion and atmosphere has been a focus for the program and has helped lead to success.

"Working on our athlete-athlete and athlete-coach culture is something we feel is important and we've been working on for years," Kripps said.  

"Despite having over half the team be World Cup rookies last year, the athletes and coaches worked together and supported each other and it's a big reason we've been experiencing the success we have been."

Hays was coach of the U.S. women's program from 2011 until 2014. He's been head coach of Bobsleigh Canada for two years.

WATCH | Olympic champion Humphries wants release from Bobsleigh Canada

Humphries is suing Bobsleigh Canada to be released, claiming that she was in "an environment that is unsafe." 2:54

USA Bobsled says Hays's contract wasn't renewed in 2014 after restructuring the program and consolidating the men's and women's teams for "better collaboration among the coaches."

"That structure did not play to Todd's coaching style," said spokesperson Amanda Bird.

In a statement to CBC Sports, Bobsleigh Canada said it abides by its harassment and discrimination policy that has been in place since 2006.

The organization said it would not comment on Humphries's specific case, citing the privacy provisions of that policy, until the investigation is complete. 

Bobsleigh Canada says Hays will not be commenting on Humphries's allegations. 

"As the matter is before the courts there will be no comment from Todd Hays until this is wrapped up," the organization said.

Humphries plans to compete for U.S.

Humphries now says she'd rather compete for the U.S. She is marrying American Travis Armbruster, a former brakeman on the U.S. bobsleigh team, on Saturday. 

"Being put into an environment that is unsafe. It's not okay, let alone I'm going to be punished just for stating that those facts are existing to me," Humphries said. 

"It was a very hard decision, it still is a very hard decision to get to this point. At the end of the day, I have to be who I am, I have to be strong."

WATCH | Canadian Olympians show support for Kaillie Humphries

CBC's Erin Collins spoke with Canadian Olympians about Humphries decision to leave Bobsleigh Canada after abuse allegations against head coach Todd Hays. 1:49

Humphries says once she secures her release from Team Canada, she will begin her process to become eligible to compete for the United States.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) requirements dictate that an athlete changing countries "may participate in the Olympic Games to represent his new country provided that at least three years have passed since the competitor last represented [their] former country."

She plans to attend a U.S. bobsleigh training camp in Lake Placid as a guest next week.

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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