Kaillie Humphries on the hunt for new bobsleigh talent
Recruiting is part of the job for 2-time Olympic gold medallist
In addition to being one of Canada's most accomplished athletes and one of her sport's biggest stars, Kaillie Humphries has also become a talent recruiter.
While her sights remain set on a third straight Olympic two-woman bobsleigh gold medal in 2018, the 31-year-old pilot from Calgary has also taken on the task of helping Canada find and test new athletes.
Several strong brakemen have helped Humphries achieve great success over the years. Multi-sport star Heather Moyse pushed their sled to two gold medals before stepping away after the 2014 Olympics. Last season, Humphries thrived in her second year with current brakeman Melissa Lotholz — the pair captured the World Cup title and a world championship silver.
So it helps Humphries to stay on the hunt for potential teammates, even if she's reluctant at times to do the job.
"I'm not happy with the recruiting process at all," says Humphries, who has won a pair of world titles with two different brakemen — Jennifer Ciochetti in 2012 and Chelsea Valois in 2013. "It takes away from my job if I'm also trying to organize, teach and do everything for these athletes."
Humphries says that a collaborative effort with her national sport organization, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, is the key to success.
"I think for a while that it's been pretty individual," she says. "This year, we're really going to step up together… I've got something different to offer and I can reach a different audience than they can. Overall, that's how we're going to be the best. In the past, it hasn't been that way."
Chris Le Bihan, the high performance director at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, believes that athletes recruiting other athletes is key to the sport's success.
"We've pushed all of our athletes to reach out. That's something that's been done for decades," says the 2010 Olympic four-man bobsleigh bronze medallist. "[Former CFL running back] Jesse Lumsden was brought into this program through [five-time Olympian] Pierre Lueders. That's a recent example but that happens all of the time. We think it's fantastic. They can get in front of [other elite athletes] more often than the association."
Take a block from the bottom...
Humphries says it's tough when so few young female athletes are showing interest in bobsleigh.
"We try and make the best of what we've got," she says. "I definitely wish to see more girls come out and to do the sport.
"Right now, the way I see our program is like a Jenga stack. We've got some good girls at the top, a couple of good girls in the middle and a couple of good girls at the bottom. I would like to see a pyramid. I would like to see a lot more of the younger up-and-coming generation."
Easier said than done, says Le Bihan.
"It's not a cheap sport to do, so you are never going to have a huge pyramid base system," he explains. "At the same time, we are constantly out there looking for different people. Competition breeds performance."
Lumsden showed that football players are well-suited to making the transition to bobsleigh brakemen, and Humphries believes that rugby — a sport that Moyse played — could offer a similar pipeline for women.
"Their mentality, how they train — bobsleigh requires the same elements [as rugby]," she says. "The skill set is slightly different but... your body is trained to move weight. It makes it very easy."
Lumsden, who spent six seasons in the CFL before making the move to bobsleigh, agrees that football and rugby players are a natural fit.
"From a physical standpoint, they're training for bobsleigh their whole sporting career without really knowing it," says the 2012 world championship silver medallist in the two-man. "You're used to having that force in front of you and trying to run through that at full speed."
Time is not on her side
This fall, Humphries has invited a pair of Rio 2016 rugby sevens bronze-medal winners to try out. The elite athleticism of Jen Kish and Karen Paquin makes them good candidates.
Got an invite to tryout to be <a href="https://twitter.com/BobsledKaillie">@BobsledKaillie</a> brakeman. I fear that this may be an epic fail but I won't let fear discourage me from trying👍—@jen_kish
Had a 3 day crash course in Bobsleigh with brilliant ppl who r world class in the sport. Tmrw I test & see if I can meet World Cup standards <a href="https://t.co/Ul9fIC4EUe">pic.twitter.com/Ul9fIC4EUe</a>—@jen_kish
"I don't have time to teach someone how to be an athlete," Humphries says. "These girls are at the top in what they do. They are already at an Olympic level. I just have to teach them the skill portion."
That can take time, Humphries admits.
"Most girls that come in as 'second-hand' athletes… they have a shelf life," she says. "We get a lot of older girls. You usually get them for a four-year cycle, which doesn't create a lot of longevity within the sport.
"Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and I are looking to build a program where it doesn't matter if we go through cycles, we will have the [athletes] to step up."
For now, though, Humphries knows that recruiting has its payoffs.
"I want the fastest brakeman. I want to be teamed with the fastest girl that Canada has to offer."