BEIJING (AP) — Kaillie Humphries crossed the finish line, jumped from her sled and threw an American flag in the air.
“U-S-A! U-S-A!” she chanted.
Four years ago, nobody would have seen that coming. The former Canadian bobsled heroine is an Olympic gold medalist for the third time — and for the first time, as a U.S. citizen.
Humphries is monobob’s first Olympic champion, finishing off a shockingly one-sided competition at the Beijing Games on Monday. She finished four runs in 4 minutes, 19.27 seconds to lead a gold-silver finish for the U.S. women’s program.
Elana Meyers Taylor of the U.S. was second in 4:20.81 — 1.54 seconds back — for her fourth Olympic medal, one that came after she took a year off following the Pyeongchang Games to become a mother. Christine de Bruin of Canada was third in 4:21.03.
Humphries became the first woman to win Olympic gold medals for two different countries, and the first Olympian to win gold for both the U.S. and Canada. She also is the first woman to win three golds in bobsledding, with a chance for a fourth later this week in the two-person event.
It was the biggest winning margin — by far — in any of the six Olympic bobsled races that have been contested by women, smashing the 0.85-second victory that Humphries enjoyed in the 2010 two-person event at the Vancouver Games.
And the last time any Olympic bobsled race saw such a margin between first place and second place was 42 years ago, when Erich Schärer of Switzerland won the two-man event at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics by 1.57 seconds.
Humphries was dominant, plain and simple.
“I pretend like I’m not the best,” Humphries said. “That’s what makes me work so hard.”
Meyers Taylor is now a four-time medalist, giving her the most in USA Bobsled history — breaking a tie with three others, the great Steven Holcomb among them — and tying her for sixth most in U.S. Winter Olympic history.
Apolo Ohno (eight), Bonnie Blair (six), Bode Miller (six), Eric Heiden (five) and Chad Hedrick (five) are the only U.S. winter athletes with more medals. Meyers Taylor will vie for a fifth medal later this week in the traditional two-person women’s bobsled event.
Like Humphries, Meyers Taylor also went through some major struggles to get here. Concussions nearly derailed her career, then she took a year off to have her first child, a boy born with Down syndrome and significant hearing loss. And in Beijing, she did a stint in isolation — spending more time away from her son than she ever had since his birth two years ago — after testing positive for COVID-19.
And it was fitting that Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished 1-2, since they were the ones who championed a second medal event being added to the women’s bobsled Olympic program.
Humphries won three women’s bobsled medals — two gold, one bronze — for Canada, then joined the U.S. team in 2019 after saying she had suffered mental and emotional trauma and no longer felt safe being a part of that program.
She made the switch knowing the Beijing Games were not guaranteed: A passport is required in almost all circumstances to compete at the Olympics, and Humphries was told it could be a four-year process. She had 2 1/2 years to get it done, and it happened only after some U.S. lawmakers helped clear a pathway.
Finally, Humphries became a citizen in December after acing her final interview in San Diego, then flew back halfway across the world the next day to rejoin the World Cup circuit. More challenges awaited: A hamstring injury slowed her down at the end of the World Cup season, and then she tested positive for COVID-19 — a hurdle she didn’t fully clear until earlier this month.
All good now.
Good as gold, actually.
“We’ve worked so hard for this and been through so much,” said Travis Armbruster, Humphries’ husband, as he watched from their San Diego home. “I couldn’t breathe until she crossed the finish line.”
Humphries’ lead was 0.30 seconds after the first run Friday, and she left the track at the midway point in full command — up by 1.04 seconds. She was the first sled to go down the track Saturday, and her time in that run was four-tenths of a second slower than her best time on Friday.
Being slower might have made her rivals think the comeback door was open.
It wasn’t. Not even close.
De Bruin went from 1.04 seconds down to 1.55 back after three runs. Laura Nolte of Germany went from 1.22 seconds down to 2.05 back. Meyers Taylor was the only medal contender who moved up, leapfrogging Nolte into third place heading into the final run but still losing time — nearly a half-second — to Humphries.
At that point, the race was for silver.
Gold had been won. Kaillie Humphries made history. America had a new champion.
“This is where she should be,” Armbruster said, “and how it should be.”
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