Kaillie Humphries didn’t need long to answer when asked who she considers to be among the best drivers in bobsled history. The names aren’t exactly surprising: Andre Lange and Francesco Friedrich of Germany, Pierre Lueders of Canada, Steven Holcomb of the U.S.
She didn’t put herself on that list.
A win this weekend might leave Humphries no choice but to consider herself part of that elite club. Humphries is the defending women’s world bobsled champion and will team up with Lolo Jones this weekend at Altenberg, Germany, in a bid to win her fourth title — something no female pilot has ever done.
“I admire other people for the things that they do well,” said Humphries, who is in her second season competing for USA Bobsled. “And I look at myself and I go, ‘OK, I’m not perfect and there are things that I can improve upon.’ So when others say things like ‘You’re so great’ or this or that, I definitely think about the things that I don’t do well or the things I can do better.”
The Americans didn’t travel to Europe for the first half of the season's schedule, staying home over concerns about coronavirus protocols and international travel. That meant Humphries competed in just four women’s World Cup bobsled races this winter, her best result being a gold with Jones last weekend in the series finale at Igls, Austria.
Humphries also went 2 for 2 in monobob races, a new event for women — just a pilot in the sled. It’s part of the world championships program this year and will be offered at the 2022 Beijing Olympics as well. And that means she’s a double-gold threat at worlds this year.
“Worlds are always important,” Humphries said. “I think there is a bit of pressure for sure to go and perform in Altenberg knowing I won worlds there last year. I’m no stranger to pressure. I understand what that means. And pressure doesn’t scare me as much as I guess the fear of not being able to do my best or not being able to adapt to change. So worlds are a major championship for me. The Olympics aren’t guaranteed, and worlds this year are guaranteed.”
It’s true: For Humphries, the Olympics aren’t guaranteed.
Humphries is married to an American and holds a green card. She’s been eligible to compete in World Cups and world championships for the U.S. since being released from the Canadian national program in 2019. But to compete in the Olympics for the U.S., Humphries would need to be an American citizen — a process that is ongoing, with no guarantee of being completed in time.
“There’s no guarantees, in life, in sport, in anything,” Humphries said.
Humphries won world titles in 2012 and 2013, along with last year’s crown. Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis is the only other women’s pilot to win three world titles; she got those in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
“If Kaillie were to win, it would set the bar at a whole new level,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Aron McGuire said.
The U.S. has two serious medal hopes on the women’s side, with two-time world champion pilot Elana Meyers Taylor teaming with Sylvia Hoffman this weekend. And like Humphries, Meyers Taylor will be a top medal contender in monobob.
Humphries doesn’t know when or how the Olympic issue will be resolved. For now, all her attention is on worlds — and ending a season like none other on the highest possible note.
“I definitely am reminding myself on a daily basis that, you know, this year is hard and it’s hard for everybody and it’s different and the game has changed,” Humphries said. “And realistically, as long as we end the season healthy, as long as no one gets COVID on tour and we can come back to North America safe and sound, that’s a win.”