When Kaillie Humphries' career comes to an end, her impact on bobsleigh will, hopefully, be felt for years to come.
If it doesn't play out that way, it won't be for a lack of trying on the part of the 29-year-old Calgarian.
After becoming the first woman to pilot a bobsled in four-man competition last season, the two-time defending Olympic champion in women's two-man bobsleigh piloted the first all-woman sled earlier this month in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Though Humphries won't get the chance to repeat the feat during BMW IBSF World Cup action here in Whistler — there are two men's two-man races on tap in lieu of a four-man event — she hopes the situation is different the next time this level of competition rolls into the resort.
That thought was racing through her brain as she was lining up to help make bobsleigh history on Jan. 9.
"There's lots going through my mind. It's more how we make it successful. Anything I do, I don't take lightly. I don't do it just to do it and then quit or just stop. I've got long-term goals," she said. "Ultimately, I want women's four-man to be in the Olympics in 2022. I want it to be another medal event. It's hard to look and go 'OK, yay, it's here' when it's not yet a full World Cup event. It's not yet a full World Championship event. It's not yet an Olympic event. Until that happens, I'm not going to be satisfied with it.
"At the same point, it's great that the opportunity is there, but I really want to make sure it becomes successful, so I'm doing everything I can for that."
Though she has high hopes for the future of women's bobsleigh, Humphries also insisted that in the moment, she can't think of competing with men as "a big deal," lest she find herself "too overexcited."
Acknowledging the equipment is pricy and budgets are slim — a four-man sled runs between $150,000 and $200,000, she said — Humphries called for businesses to step up and sponsor amateur athletics consistently instead of in the short period leading into the Olympic Games. Humphries also noted that most national federations aren't interested in funding sports that lack Olympic medal potential, meaning it could be difficult for more athletes to get involved without greater funding.
"It requires a lot of support from our government and I encourage a lot more from our businesses," she said. "The Olympics comes every four years and it's 'Yay, athletes' but it's the work in years one, two and three that make all the difference and what sets us up to be the best in that fourth year."
Humphries is hoping to prove to the IBSF that a four-man event for women is needed now, though only 10 women's sleds are slated to compete at this weekend's two-man event. However, she feels four-man entries are also flagging. The most recent event in Park City, Utah had 21 sleds, including hers with Cynthia Appiah, Melissa Lotholz and Genevieve Thibault.
"A big part of allowing us to do the women's four-man is due to the lack of people and me being in the right spot at the right time, pushing. It's been three years of me pushing for this. It didn't just all of a sudden come on. I've been wanting to do this for awhile," she said.
The IBSF will hold and monitor a test event at the World Championships in Igls, Austria next month and then make a decision on the viability of the women's four-man event later this spring.
"I hope all the girls really take it into consideration," she said. "It's an open door."
Humphries is also looking to grow the sport at a time where she is the only female pilot representing Canada on the World Cup circuit. Some might wonder why Bobsleigh Canada didn't pull up one of its younger drivers from the Europa Cup ranks to fill out the field, but Humphries stressed they're exactly where they need to be right now.
"They haven't been to Europe yet, so sending them there is a big part to their development," she said. "You want them here, selfishly, so it increases our numbers and it's a good show, but athletically for them, long term, we need them over there to be learning and developing on those tracks so that when they do come up on World Cup, they can be a) competitive and b) ready athletically, mentally and physically to be the best on all the tracks around the world."
New equipment helping Canucks
After a challenging year last season with just four podium appearances and no wins, Humphries is experiencing a resurgence thanks to a new ride.
She and top men's pilot Justin Kripps are cruising in brand-new BTC bobsleighs and she hasn't missed a podium this year, taking three wins already, including this past weekend in Park City.
"Last year was hard. Nothing else has changed. I'm with the exact same girl (Lotholz)," she said. "The biggest difference is the equipment, which is a big factor in our sport.
"Getting the sled this year has made a world of difference. There's still some work to be done. By no means am I going to let up. I'm always looking for the next best piece of equipment, the next best brakeman. I want to have the best of the best. I want to be the best that I can be physically and mentally going into the next Games."
It's not the first time Humphries had adjusted to a new sled, as she rode a Reich to victory in 2010 before switching to the Eurotech shortly afterward.
For Kripps, the fourth-ranked pilot on the men's side, it's his first time he's had to learn a new sled, but the 29-year-old Summerland resident is enjoying the adjustment.
"It feels different in the track. It feels fast. It's good," he said. "It's not easier, but it's different. There's a learning curve when you take a new sled down. Particularly in a track like this, I notice it.
"I have an ingrained driving program from the other sled. The Eurotech is the only one I've driven, pretty much my whole career, until I got into this one, so it's actually quite an adjustment, but it's going pretty well."
Competition begins Friday
Racing begins at 2 p.m. on Jan. 22 with the women's skeleton race while the two-man bobsleigh begins at 6 p.m. On Jan. 23, the men's skeleton competition begins at 10 a.m., the two-woman bobsleigh will run at 2 p.m. and the two-man bobsleigh will run a second race at 6 p.m.
Spectators can park in Lots 6, 7 and 8, which are within walking distance to the Whistler Sliding Centre, or in Lots 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 and take the Excalibur gondola up to the track. Admission to the gondola is free if spectators are not dressed for skiing.
At the venue, food offerings include the Schnitzel Shack and Sugar Momma Pastries while beverages available will be Tim Hortons coffee and hot chocolate and beer, cider and mulled wine at the Gibbons Life beer garden. There will also be fireworks at the conclusion of racing on both days.
Tickets to the races themselves are $10 per day and can be purchased online at www.whistlersportlegacies.com or at the Whistler Sliding Centre at its guest services building or at the track entrance ticket booth. Children 12 and under are admitted at no charge.
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