Standing in the start house before the fourth and final run of the women’s bobsled competition, Kaillie Humphries had just one question for her brakeman, Heather Moyse. Could it be done? The 28-year-old Albertan has never liked to know just how far in front—or in this case, behind—their sled was. Only that they still had a chance to win. “I just looked at her and said it’s possible, and that’s all Kaillie needed to know,” said Moyse.
Possible, but perhaps not probable. Heading into the last night of the competition, the Canadian duo, the top-ranked team in the world, had found themselves in an unaccustomed place—second. And they were trailing Elena Meyers and Lauren Williams of the United States by a cumulative 0.23 seconds, a lifetime in sliding. But in their first descent of the evening, Humphries and Moyse, cut the deficit in half with a run of 57.57. And their second go was almost as fast, 57.92.
Now in first place, with only the Americans left to slide, Humphries and Moyse, stood nervously at the bottom of the track watching their rivals’ progress on a TV monitor. Meyers and Williams’ push was 0.04 seconds faster, but they soon lost speed when their sled kissed the wall on the second turn. Another hard bump coming out of a curve a little farther down had the Canadian fans at the Sanki Sliding Center on their feet screaming. And when the U.S. sled rattled across the line with a time of 58.13, it became official—the Canadians had won gold.
It isn’t their first. Four years ago in Whistler, Humphries and Moyse led a Canuck blitz of the podium, taking the top step while Helen Upperton and Shelley Ann-Brown took silver. But that accomplishment came with the help of a home-track advantage, and more than a year of training runs on the Olympic course. This time, the win came in hostile territory, on a track where they, and every other foreigner, had next to zero experience. “Winning in Vancouver, being at home, a first Olympic gold for us, that was a dream come true,” said Humphries. “But to be able to do it again, and to be able to defend. … It’s less about a fluke, and more about our plan and process, and who we are as people that really made the difference.”
In the wake of their 2010 victory, Humphries made a quick decision to stick around and go for another gold. But Moyse, also a star member of the Canadian women’s rugby team, took time away for a Rugby World Cup, and then attempted to qualify in track cycle for the last Summer Games in London. In her absence, Chelsea Valois became Humphries’ brakeman, and that pairing proved every bit as dominant, reeling off nine-straight podium finishes in the 2012-13 season, and winning the world championship. It wasn’t until this past summer that Moyse, now 35, decided to make a comeback. And when the Summerside, PEI native showed for training camp in Calgary and broke the all-time women’s push record, she quickly regained her place in Canada’s number one sled.
Valois found a spot in Canada-2, piloted by rookie driver Jenny Chiochetti (who also filled in as Humphries’ brakeman during Moyse’s absence) but not a place on the Olympic podium. The duo finished 13th overall. Valois described the past two years as a “rollercoaster,” but says she has no regrets. Whether she will continue on to 2018 is still an open question. “I thought about it a lot, but I haven’t set any plans yet. We’ll see,” she said.
It might seem cruel to outsiders, but bobsleigh has always adhered to a strict survival of the fastest policy. And both Humphries and Moyse have been on the outside in the past. Kaillie went to Turin as an alternate brakeman, but never made it into competition. And Moyse, who enjoyed much success with Upperton on the World Cup circuit, found herself looking for a new ride in the run-up to Vancouver after she took time off to recover from a rugby injury.
Upperton, who was a trackside as a colour commentator for the CBC, paid tribute to her friends and rivals. Kaillie, she said, has become the sport’s most dominant pilot, consistent and sure, even under extreme pressure. “She is so much better than anyone else that it’s almost a joke,” said Upperton. And what the duo has accomplished—in Vancouver and in Sochi—should not be underestimated. “Defending a gold medal is so hard, and so rare, I think this is a special win,” she said.
It wasn’t exactly as they had planned, but it worked out all the same. And Humphries and Moyse again have reason to celebrate. After Vancouver, Kaillie marked their victory with a tattoo replicating the medal. Asked what the plan is this time, it was Moyse who jumped in with the snappy answer. “It’s my portrait and it’s going to go on her arm.”
Wednesday, February 19, 2014