Johnson: Humphries reflects on record-setting eight straight World Cup wins
Bobsleigh star back in Calgary for a little R'n'R before resuming quest
Canada’s golden girl of bobsleigh Kaillie Humphries, middle, is met at the Calgary International Airport on Monday by her mom Cheryl Simundson, left, and sister Shelby Lewis. After winning eight World Cup races in a row, Humphries is looking forward to spending a nice time at home for the holidays.
Photograph by: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald
For breakfast Christmas morning, a dad’s Hungarian rice casserole, impossible to replicate (“I know. I’ve tried. I can’t”). A great-grandmother’s special recipe for Nuts and Bolts. Mom’s whipped shortbread cookies.
“Those are the three things,” says Kaillie Humphries, with no guilt whatever, ”that I am ready to ... devour. Those are the things I’ve missed, not being at home. Our traditions at Christmas.”
She can’t wait to sleep late, just lounge around the house in PJs for 10 days. No commitments. No training. No streak to extend. No bombing down ice-slicked tracks at speeds upwards of 120 km/h.
For the first time in three Christmases, the world’s finest female bobsleigh racer will be home for the holidays. Just like in the song, but not only in her dreams. Usually, with the World Cup circuit in Europe at this time and time tight, she opts to forego the eight-hour flight home and spends the yuletide with husband Dan’s family in the U.K.
So when she and roughly half the Canadian bobsleigh and skeleton contingent cleared customs off the 12:30 Air Canada flight originating from Frankfurt, her mom Cheryl and sister Shelby were with waiting with flowers.
“This holiday season is going to be special. No question. It’s great to be home. It’s two years since I’ve been here in Calgary for Christmas. I’m just going to relax and chill. I’ll probably just stay on European time, go to bed at 4 in the afternoon and wake up at 4 in the morning. It’s be awesome to just see my mom and my sisters and catch up with the family. Not think about sports for the next little bit.
“I want to refill my energy cup for a hard second half, which I know is coming.”
Making hard look easy. That’s Kaillie Humphries’ mandate at the moment. The reigning world and Olympic champion is on a roll like never before, reeling off a record eight straight victories, starting in February, through the World Championships and now the opening five World Cup races of this season. She’s changed brakemen, from Jennifer Ciochetti to rookie Chelsea Valois of Zenon Park, Sask., without so much as a momentary murmur in momentum.
The previous record for consecutive wins had been held by Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis, at six, but Humphries eclipsed that two weekends ago at Winterberg, Germany, then collaborated with Valois to add to the total Friday in La Plagne, France, before heading home.
So, perhaps somewhat of an inopportune time for a break in the action?
“I think that’s always in the back of your mind,” she concedes. “You don’t want to stop ‘cause it’s going so well. But I definitely don’t think, by any means, that being at home, being with my family, being able to recharge is a negative thing, at all.
“If anything, it’s just going to add a bit more fuel to the fire for me.
“Would I have thought it was possible? Definitely not. But am I shocked by it? No. Not at all. I think every athletes hopes and dreams, wishes and plans, to get on this type of streak. It’s nice.
“We’re going to hit some bumps, definitely. But the teammates I’ve got, the support group in place, have really helped in making everything go as smoothly as it has.”
The question now, the one she’ll be asked ad nauseam until this amazing run ends, is obviously: How high she can take this? Nine wins? Ten? Higher?
“You definitely use it, knowing anything is possible. But I’ve seen people in our sport get really big heads when this starts to happen, they change. I’ve seen it in other sports, as well. And I vowed I’d never be one of those people. So I stick to the basics. My dad always taught me the KISS principle — keep it simple, stupid — and that’s what I do as much as possible.
“We’ll see what happens. All it takes one-hundreth of a second to stop the streak, to lose a race, or 5/100ths drops you from first to eighth. One mistake and I could crash. You could pull a hamstring. You can’t prepare for everything.”
Her emerging collaboration with Valois, after successful spells with Ciochetti and Heather Moyse, has developed faster than either could’ve hope for. They’ve hit it off splendidly, putting them very much on track with the Sochi Winter Games creeping ever closer, now only 14 months away.
“Chelsea’s extremely talented. She’s got a lot of potential. We still have a lot of room to grow. The U.S. is very strong in our sport in the starts. They’ve got Lolo Jones and Tiana Madison and all those girls. But it’s not just about the start, it’s also about the driver and the equipment. We’re very, every fortunate to have Eurotech as our sponsor, building our sleds. I’d say definitely the best in the world.
“And the driving skills are coming. This is Year 7 for me as a pilot and I really feel like I’m on the right track. It’s great to know a plan, a process, is working.”
Kaillie Humphries is due back to the in Altenberg, Germany, on the 30th, for her next test at pushing the streak even further. Not even, as her mom lamented at the airport early Monday afternoon, long enough for a proper New Year’s Eve send-off.
Still, for the next 10 days, a blissful holiday season, full of Hungarian rice casserole, Nuts and Bolts and whipped shortbread cookies. The effortless ease of home, like tugging on an old, favourite pair of slippers.
“Actually,” mused the hottest bobsleigh racer on the planet, “sometimes it’s a challenge decompressing. Sometimes it’s pretty hard. You’re used to just going and going and going. So it takes a day or two to just get used to ... being lazy. If that makes sense. Sounds really easy, I know.
“But when you’re IN that (lazy) mode, you’re in it, for three or four days.
“I plan on sleeping as much as possible, and eating as much homemade food as possible. Turkey dinners and pumpkin pie. Every day.
“Being home for Christmas this year, I think I really needed it.”
Earned it, obviously, too.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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