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Humphries in limbo

Two-time Olympic gold medalist from Canada waits for the OK to join United States team

Kaillie Humphries enjoys the sunshine following her appearance as a forerunner at the U.S. Bobsled Push Championships on Thursday, Sept. 19 in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — A two-time Olympic gold medalist is currently waiting in limbo, hoping to return to a sport where she is one of the best in the world.

It’s hard to imagine women’s Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries, who has arguably been the face of Canadian bobsledding for years, competing for anybody else except her native country.

But that’s exactly what the 34-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, hopes to do this season. Her plan is to race as a member of the United States bobsled team. In order for that to happen, a ruling by the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation needs go Humphries’ way, and in a hurry.

Back in 2010 and 2014, Humphries beamed with pride while being draped in the red and white maple leaf flag of her native country, Canada, following gold medal performances at the Vancouver and Sochi Olympic Winter Games. In 2018 in South Korea, she captured bronze for Canada during a season where things took a turn for the worse for the bobsled pilot who is now seeking to become a member of the United States bobsled team.

The last time Humphries competed for Canada was that bronze medal race. Since then, she’s lodged complaints against Canadian bobsled coach Todd Hays for “verbal, and mental and psychological abuse.” She’s filed a $45 million dollar lawsuit against Bobsleigh Canada for blocking a release that would free her up to compete with another nation, and whether or not she can race competitively this winter now appears to rest in the hands of the IBSF.

Bobsleigh Canada has yet to grant Humphries a release, and a judge in Calgary upheld that decision by Canada’s federation on Sept. 17. Humphries said the IBSF can decide if she can race for another country, but must make that decision by Sept. 30, which is the deadline for nations to declare what athletes are eligible to compete on their teams in the upcoming World Cup season.

After stating that training and competing as a member of the Canadian bobsled team under its current staff would put her in an “unsafe environment,” Humphries took last season off from the sport. As a resident of southern California since 2016, and now married to former U.S. bobsledder Travis Armbruster, she said joining the American program would offer her a much better scenario.

The IBSF can allow an athlete to compete for a country other than their birth nation if they reside there, but the Olympic rules are much stricter. In order to represent a country in the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee requires citizenship of that nation. Humphries hopes she will obtain U.S. citizenship in time to meet the criteria established by the IOC. She did say, however, she will not give up her Canadian status and become a dual citizen.

On Thursday, Sept. 19, Humphries made her return to the sport in a way as a forerunner during the U.S. National Push Championships that took place at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.

“At the end of the day, every single athlete deserves a safe working environment and I felt throughout the last Olympic year, it was a year long worth of being beat down to where I felt basically completely depleted,” Humphries said. “I don’t have a signed contract, I didn’t compete in 2018-2019. I’m a free agent across the board, and that should allow me to be released. I’m not contractually obligated, and it’s now up to the IBSF to determine what a release is.

“The USBSF has already sent a letter saying they will accept me,” Humphries said. “If the decision goes my way, I will be very excited to work with a federation that believes in safe sport.”

Humphries said for most of her career in Canada, it’s been a win-win scenario for her and Bobsleigh Canada that came undone during the 2018 Winter Olympics season.

“I’ve worked very hard to try to develop bobsledding in Canada and help bring awareness to the sport,” she said. “In return, I’ve been given the opportunity through Canadian Sport to be the best that I can be. It’s been a mutually beneficial working relationship for me and Bobsleigh Canada for the last 15 years, but now I do find myself in my situation where I feel very unsafe in my work environment and I would like the opportunity to go somewhere where I feel safe; to go somewhere that values and respects me as an athlete and what I bring to the table in respect to performance sport.

“Team USA has always been competitive for that, and I always admired their high performance,” Humphries continued. “On the track, they’ve always made my life real hard in regards to competition, but I admire that. No system is perfect, but the fact that they are working hard to create a space for athletes, I think that’s awesome. They’re not turning a blind eye, they’re not shunning athletes. They are really trying to hold themselves accountable on all fronts and create a positive safe environment, and I respect that a lot.”

Over the last several years, one of the biggest rivalries in the sport of women’s bobsled has been between Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor, who has been the U.S.’s top female pilot and has collected silver medals from the past two Winter Olympics. Meyers Taylor is pregnant and will take this season off, which could lead to Humphries becoming the top U.S. slider, if she is allowed to compete and also fulfills the athletes criteria set by the USBSF.

Meyers Taylor plans to return next season in a lead up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and with Humphries potentially on the team as well, the American women could turn into a dominant force for years to come.

Humphries said she actually asked Meyers Taylor is if it would be OK to begin the process of trying to compete as a member of the U.S. team.

“Elana and I do have a rivalry in sport but we are very close when it comes to friendship,” Humphries said. “I definitely would have not made this transition if it wasn’t approved by her because I don’t want to come in and effect anything that she’s worked so hard to set up over the last 10 years or longer of her being in the sport. I’ve gotten her blessing, and that’s a big reason why this is all made possible. I think Elana is an amazing leader for our sport.

“Ideally, I’d like to compete for another two Olympic cycles. I’m not sure what I’d do if I wasn’t bobsledding. I’ve never really thought about that,” Humphries added. “I want to stick with this because I’m still competitive at it and still one of the best in the world at it. I’m not about to go quietly. This sport itself feeds my soul. That’s why I fight so hardly to do this.”