Kaillie Humphries of the U.S. is a bobsled champion again, winning her third world title Saturday to put an emphatic cap on her comeback season.
Humphries teamed with Lauren Gibbs to finish four runs over two days in Altenberg, Germany with a time of 3 minutes, 45.49 seconds. Germany’s junior world champion Kim Kalicki and Kira Lipperheide were second in 3:45.86, and Christine de Bruin and Kristen Bujnowski of Canada were third in 3:46.55.
Humphries finished it off by posting the fastest time in the final heat, wrapped her arms around the front of her sled once it came to a stop, then hopped out and hoisted a U.S. flag. Her first two world titles, along with both of her Olympic gold medals, were won for Canada.
But Humphries — the wife of an American, but still a Canadian citizen — came to USA Bobsled and Skeleton last fall, after sitting out last season amid allegations of verbal and mental abuse with the Canadian program and saying that left her not feeling safe to remain part of that team.
“It hasn't been without struggle," Humphries said Saturday night, as the cheers and cowbell-rings of the crowd in Altenberg rained down on the new world champion. “But at the end of the day, this makes it all worth it.”
And in the end, she proved she was still the world’s best. Humphries joined Germany’s Sandra Kirasis as the only three-time women’s bobsled world champion pilots.
“Our old girl's still got it," Gibbs said. “I consider my job is to give Kaillie as much room to just do what she does best and not get in her way, not hold her back. It's an honor to race with her."
There were 16 sleds left going into Saturday’s final heat, but the title was basically a two-sled race: Humphries vs. Kalicki. Humphries led Kalicki by 0.19 seconds, with all other drivers well off the pace. Kalicki had a relatively clean fourth run, though Humphries was perfect and sealed the title.
Humphries would have been a cinch to win the World Cup overall title this season as well had she not skipped the season finale, a decision she made to devote more time to preparing for the world championships.
It was a risky move.
It looks brilliant now.
“We took the last World Cup race off to prepare for this and it worked," Humphries said. “I'm so happy it worked."
And a trophy that wouldn’t exist if not for her is, rightly, back in her possession. When Humphries won her first world title in 2012, she was disappointed to learn that there wasn’t a trophy — men’s bobsledders have ones to hoist for winning two- and four-man titles, shiny chalices engraved with the names of all past winners.
Such a prize didn’t exist for the women. Humphries’ parents offered to buy one themselves and donate it to the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, and when that organization finally got a trophy for the women it was Humphries who commissioned the engraving of all past winners’ names.
For the third time, her name is headed there.
"We are extremely proud of the things she has done to make the sport a better place to be in,” Humphries’ mother, Cheryl Simundson, said before the start of the world championships. “She's leaving a legacy for the future generation of girls and young women, showing that one person can make a difference no matter how small."
Kirasis won in 2005, 2007 and 2008 — three consecutive titles, since there were no world championships in the Olympic year of 2006, when the German legend also took gold at the Turin Games.
Humphries has also been the brightest spot for the U.S. in the three sliding sports all winter. USA Luge has 11 medals this winter, but no golds. USA Bobsled and Skeleton combined for seven World Cup medals this season, two of those being a four-man bronze in a sled driven by Hunter Church and a women’s skeleton bronze from Megan Henry.
Everything else — four World Cup golds, one World Cup bronze and now the 13th world championship in USABS history from two-man, four-man, women’s bobsled and skeleton events — has come with Humphries in the driver’s seat.
“I really couldn't have done it without everybody on my team this year," Humphries said.