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winter sports

Bobsled pilot Kaillie Humphries helps move her sled with her male teammates following a training run at Canada Olympic Park in CalgaryJeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Kaillie Humphries is on track to make her World Cup debut in the four-man bobsled next month in Calgary.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist in women's bobsled has set Dec. 20 as the target date for her first World Cup race as a four-man pilot with an all-male crew.

Humphries and teammates D.J. McLelland, Dan Dale and Joey Nemet are competing Sunday in Calgary in a pair of races on the North America Cup developmental circuit.

They finished sixth and eighth in their first two races last Saturday and Sunday in Park City, Utah. They were third at the Canadian championship last month.

"Four-man is so sweet," Humphries said Thursday in Calgary after training. "These Americas Cup (races) are about qualifying for the World Cup and getting to compete on the World Cup for the full season this year. That's success."

The 29-year-old Calgarian hasn't quit the women's event, which is contested in a two-man sled only, so Humphries is essentially switching from driving a coupe to a caravan and back again.

The big sled can be a smoother ride if you drive it properly, she says.

"If you're on the right line, it's amazing. If you're on the wrong line, good luck, you have no chance and you crap your pants," Humphries said.

"It's going to take some time and I've got to prove to these guys I know what I'm doing. The only way is to get them down safely and fast in a race-day scenario."

The world governing body of the sport, the FIBT, declared in September that four-man bobsled will henceforth be "gender neutral", which allows for mixed teams and all-female teams to compete against the men.

Women's bobsled was introduced as an Olympic sport in 2002 as a two-person event, while the men continued to race two-man and four-man sleds.

Humphries and brakeman Heather Moyse of Summerside, P.E.I., defended their Olympic title in Sochi, Russia, in February after claiming gold four years ago in Whistler, B.C.

Humphries will attempt a three-peat in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018. She's won 11 of her 15 career World Cup races as well as a pair of women's world championships.

She isn't alone in breaking the four-man gender barrier. Olympic silver medallist Elana Meyers Taylor of the U.S. placed seventh and sixth with a male crew in Park City and is competing in Calgary this week.

In order to graduate to the World Cup, pilots must compete in five races on three different tracks in a two-year span on either the Americas Cup or Europa Cup circuits.

Humphries is accelerating through those requirements. She'll travel to La Plagne, France, in early December for Europa Cup races on the required third track.

She'll race the women's event at the first World Cup stop Dec. 8-13 in Lake Placid, N.Y., but not in four-man. The travel turnaround from France to Lake Placid is too tight for her. She'd rather wait until the following week in Calgary to race four-man on her home track.

"It comes down to safety," Humphries explained. "I need to be fully switched on."

After setting their sled atop the Canada Olympic Park track Thursday for their first run, Humphries said little to her crewmen as she stood still and mentally rehearsed her run. But the pilot was smiling and animated in post-run analysis with her male crew.

"She's a great pilot and it's an opportunity to go on the World Cup in my first year," said Daniel, who came to bobsled from hockey. The Grande Prairie, Alta., native played two seasons for the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos.

"It's good for me because it's my first year in the sport and it's Kaillie's first year in four-man so it's a learning experience for both of us," Dale continued. "We're helping each other out along the way, along with the other brakemen."

The permission to allow women into four-man sleds came so quickly that Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton is still determining what will define success for Humphries this winter in the event.

"If we said we're expecting her to go out and medal right away, I think that's not the right mindset for right now," head coach Chris LeBihan said.

"There's still a learning curve for her. All these tracks, she's nailed it in two-man, but four-man is different. We're using this year so she can gain skill of driving four-man."