Even winning didn’t seem to perturb her.
Kaillie Humphries, the implacable bobsled pilot with blue-streaked hair, eyelashes as long and luxuriant as feathers and a prizefighter’s swagger, coolly, collectedly drove the Canada 1 car into golden victory tonight, maintaining a top spot through four heats that might have threatened to topple lesser athletes for the pressure.
But her first-place finish, backed by P.E.I. brakeman and national rugby team member Heather Moyse, does not end at mere excellence.
The silver medal that goes to Canada 2 pilot Helen Upperton, of Calgary, and her brakeman Shelley-Ann Brown, of Pickering, Ont., gives tonight’s Canadian podium spots the weight of parable—a story of the fragility of friendship in tough times and its occasionally remarkable strength. (Third place went to pilot Erin Pac and brakeman Elana Meyers, of the U.S.)
In the 24-year-old Humphries case, the gold also teaches us that you can break just about every bone in your body, get your heart busted in sport, and come back to reverse it all.
The litany of injuries for Humphries stretches back to her days as a world-ranked ski racing phenom while still a teenager. She found the bobsleigh the hard way: By breaking both her legs, at different times, on the slopes, trashing her confidence.
Later, as a brakeman backing Upperton, tonight’s silver medalist, in bobsled competitions, she helped give teams worldwide a run for their money. But in Mexico, another serious injury, to her foot, put Humphries out of commission in the ramp up to the Turin winter games. Though she recovered in time to compete for the Games, the injury set the stage for her replacement by Moyse as Upperton’s brakeman.
Moyse and Upperton went on to come a very close fourth in Turin.
The heartbreak of flying home to Canada without competing convinced Humphries she should become her own master; she went to pilot training school in Lake Placid.
Paired with Moyse, now 31—the very brakeman who had replaced her in Turin—a year and a half ago, Humphries began breaking records on bobsled runs internationally.
Tonight, after breaking the Whistler Sliding Centre track three times over four heats, the pair spoke openly about the strain Turin put on their relationship early on.
“Part of me is really grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to give back to her what part of me feels like I took from her,” Moyse told reporters. “I think that just drives me. And she knows that I am going to back her with whatever I have.”
Said Humphries: “She was better than me and she got to race. Eventually we got over it.
“Now we’re the best of mates possible.”
Upperton’s miraculous second-place finish, after she drove the sled into fourth place over the first two heats, followed the shocking rollover by Germany’s Cathleen Martini and Romy Logsch.
“I think it speaks volumes how difficult the track is to have no Germans on the podium,” U.S. pilot Shauna Rohbock, who came sixth with brakeman Michelle Rzepka, told reporters. Rohbock also complained that international competitors had been permitted too few runs on the Whistler track. “I just feel like if I had 10 more runs I would have figured some stuff out,” she said. “It wasn’t the Olympics that I dreamed of for four years.”
But Upperton’s performance tonight also marks a comeback after a wobbly season, and likely brings her relationship with the Turin-jilted Humphries full circle.
Asked if the two would celebrate the victory like Jon Montgomery, the skeleton racer who won gold last Friday, Humphries and Moyse said likely no. “Maybe,” said Moyse, “some cinnamon melts.”
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