Kaillie Humphries is the hunter and the hunted
Back-to-back Olympic champ targets American rival/friend who wants her gold
Every time Canadian bobsleigh pilot Kaillie Humphries takes to the track, she feels the weight of the world trying to catch her.
"I have a very giant target on my back, which is something I've never experienced," says Humphries, who is going for her third title at this week's world championships in Germany (CBCSports.ca's live stream of her event begins Friday at 8:15 a.m. ET).
"If you stand still, the rest of the world is coming harder. It's very easy to fall into the trap."
But perhaps it's nothing new for the two-time defending Olympic champion. When Humphries made the decision to become a high-performance pilot in 2006, there were a lot of doubters.
"People told me [the] Vancouver [Olympics] was a long shot. That I had no chance of winning," she says. "I was told that to my face. I've had a lot of doubters and haters throughout my career."
Fast-forward a few years, and Humphries has become a household name across Canada and the bobsledding world. She won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014 and has a long list of podium finishes to her name, many of them with former brakeman Heather Moyse. She also won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's athlete of the year for 2014.
Now Humphries is eyeing a third straight Olympic gold medal next year in Pyeongchang with a new brakeman, Melissa Lotholz.
"My plan is to go out and win the Olympics in 2018. I plan to defend again," says Humphries. "I'm doing everything in my power to make that happen."
Defending the title won't be easy for Humphries and Lotholz. The two have waged a back-and-forth battle throughout this season with the American duo of Elana Meyers Taylor and Lolo Jones.
With seven World Cup stops in the books and one to go — at the Olympic track in Korea next month — Humphries holds a narrow lead in the standings over American Jamie Greubel Proser. Meyers Taylor is third, but that's mainly because of a crash at the season opener in Whistler. Since then, she's finished no worse than second in any race, and is currently riding a four-race winning streak.
At an event in Switzerland in February, Humphries lost to Meyers Taylor by just one hundredth of a second.
"My greatest fear is that it happens at the Olympics," Humphries says of the narrow defeat. "That sucked. That was really hard. Mentally that was one of the hardest things."
As hard as Humphries and Meyers Taylor compete on the track, the two are good friends away from competition. It's a friendship that developed years ago.
"If I can't win I truly do hope she is the one to do so, and I know she feels the same way about me," Humphries says.
On race day, "we don't really talk," says Humphries, but she and Meyers Taylor train together in the off-season, each woman pushing her rival to be better.
Humphries even went a step further to help Meyers Taylor in 2012. When her friend approached her about training with Humphries' coach, Stu McMillan, Humphries agreed.
"At the end of the day no athlete wants to give up secrets. But I needed to set the bar high. That's how I succeed," Humphries says. "It's about pushing myself to be better. And in 2012 I knew there was nobody who would push me as hard as her."
This week in Koenigssee, Germany, Humphries and Lotholz, both from Alberta, will try and stop the American momentum in one of the most important races one year out from the Olympics.
Whereas World Cup races consist of two runs, the world championship event is four runs — same as the Olympics.
"We have one competition a year that mocks an Olympics and this is it," Humphries says. "It's about consistency. I won in 2014 having the second-fastest time on all four runs."
There's an intensity in Humphries' voice when she talks about preparing for next year. The Olympics may seem a long way off, but she makes it very clear that ensuring another big performance on the world's biggest stage starts this week in Germany.
"I have a responsibility to myself, my sport and to my country to give my best self every day," Humphries says. "And that's what I do."