Every night before she races, Kaillie Humphries phones home to Calgary and talks to her mom and dad and sister. Then she goes out the next morning and vanquishes the world.
It’s a ritual like no other in the history of women’s bobsleigh: Humphries makes her call, then is paged to the top of the medal podium. It’s been going on for eight consecutive races dating back to last season, a streak stretched beyond the phenomenal by Friday’s latest conquest, a two-run mastering of the 1992 Olympic track in La Plagne, France.
For the record, Humphries set the consecutive win count at seven last week when she dialled up a first-place showing in Winterberg, Germany. What she’s doing now is adding to a portfolio that already includes gold medals from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 world championships, both of which were won with Humphries employing a different brakeman.
And for this season, Humphries has yet another new partner, first-year slider Chelsea Valois, whose win Friday was just the fifth race of her World Cup career. Is Humphries just showing off now? Does she think she can keep on winning, like, forever?
“I definitely do not,” Humphries replied with a laugh. “I know anything is possible on any given day. I look at myself and Chelsea as a team and what we can do to be better and go faster. They say it takes eight years to become a good pilot and I’m in year seven. I feel a lot more comfortable this season and we have a lot of room to grow.”
Having improved on Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis, who had won six races in a row dating back to 2005-06, Humphries has developed into a powerhouse of unstoppable proportions. At 27, her driving skills continue to improve under pilot coach Stefan Bosch as do her start times with the emerging Valois, of Zenon Park, Sask. In Friday’s runs, Humphries and Valois inched closer to the top push time set by the Americans before carving into the lead. The American sleds ended up second and third in La Plagne.
“I really have never seen anything like this in the sport,” said Canadian team head coach Tom De La Hunty, a former Olympic bobsledder for Britain. “The Germans have dominated in the past but never just one athlete. It was always two or three of them. It really is impressive.”
You don’t have to tell Valois about that. Only a year ago she won gold in the pentathlon at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport track and field championships before deciding to attend a bobsleigh team selection camp where her push times caught everyone by surprise. Right away, De La Hunty said they knew they had “a bit of a superstar.” Yet even Valois wasn’t prepared to do so well so suddenly.
“I pinch myself all the time,” she said. “I knew if I made Kaillie’s team I would have some success, but this is absolutely awesome.”
From Humphries’s perspective, finishing first eight times in a row is a glorious routine, but the objective is to keep working while schooling an inexperienced brakeman taking over for the likes of Olympic champion Heather Moyse and world champion Jenny Ciochetti. At some point, Valois’s nerves may kick in. Humphries is prepared for that.
“It has to be intimidating whose footsteps you’re following in, and on Canada 1, too,” Humphries said. “The expectations were high and we chatted about that. I know it’s Chelsea’s first year and we’re going to have some bumps and learning curves along the way. But I have some experience with this and we have time to be ready for Sochi [and the 2014 Winter Olympics].”
As for calling home the night before every race, then getting to do a “Yep, I won again” follow the next day, that “does seem to be working well,” Humphries said.
Kaillie Humphries has won an unprecedented eight events in a row:
Dec. 14, 2012
World Cup, La Plagne, France
Dec. 8, 2012
World Cup, Winterberg,
Nov. 23, 2012
World Cup, Whistler, B.C.
Nov. 16, 2012
World Cup, Park City, Utah
Nov. 9, 2012
World Cup, Lake Placid, N.Y.
Feb. 18, 2012
Feb. 10, 2012
World Cup, Calgary
Feb. 4, 2012
World Cup, Whistler