From Canada to US, Olympic bobsledder Kaillie Humphries races on
Montreal (AFP) – Two-time Olympic bobsleigh champion Kaillie Humphries left her native Canada because of harassment and now dreams of competing in a fourth Olympic Games, this time as an American.
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Wearing a USA sweater, her hair pulled back with a starry headband, one of the top-ranked women bobsleighers is all smiles after "a really great week."
"I feel a bit overwhelmed, I won't lie," she told AFP with a laugh during an interview in Altenberg, Germany where she was competing in the Bobsleigh World Cup.
The 36-year-old athlete, originally from Calgary in western Canada, just learned that her two-year pursuit of American citizenship was successful, opening the door for her to represent the United States at the Beijing Olympics in February.
Two days later, she climbed to the top of the podium, marking her 28th World Cup victory.
Coming after "major ups and downs" over the past three to four years, she said she feels "a big sense of pride and accomplishment."
Afraid of getting punched
In August 2018, Humphries filed a complaint against her trainer, alleging harassment. It led to a break with the Canadian team and her move to the United States, which permitted her to represent the country at the World Cup in 2019.
Subsequently, an independent investigation by the Canadian bobsleigh federation concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove the alleged harassment.
"My sporting career was over in Canada," she said. "I knew that it was no longer safe for me to continue in that environment."
She described every day being "fearful of (my) environment; you don't know if you're going to get punched in the face if you say the wrong thing," adding that she was threatened physically, as well as "degraded publicly, humiliated... bullied and abused."
"I tried to speak up," but received little or no support, she said. Walking away in the end "was not an easy decision."
"It killed me to do it," she said.
Now Humphries is dreaming of adding two more Olympic medals to her collection at the Beijing Games, in two-woman bobsleigh and women's monobob -- a new addition to the Olympics. She previously won gold in 2010 and 2014, and bronze in 2018.
Stronger physically, mentally
On social networks, Humphries regularly posts video of her training sessions. Sporting long blond hair on one side of her head, shaved on the other, we see her doing push-ups in her house and training in the streets of Carlsbad, California, where she lives with her husband, American former bobsledder Travis Armbruster.
She is convinced that the challenges of the past few years have made her stronger, while advocating for a sport free from tyrannical and violent coaches.
"The shift is so freeing, and I feel so free and safe and empowered in this current environment," she said of her move to join Team USA.
"I am with like-minded people (who) push me to be the best that I can be physically and mentally," she said. "I'm looked upon as a leader... I'm respected as a female, as an athlete."
"Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and be in a safe environment and not be scared of being hit or harassed or abused," insisted the adventurous go-getter, adding that she does not regret any of her choices.
A few years ago, Humphries fought to give more space to women in sports. It was at her urging that the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation opened up the premier four-man bobsleigh to women by inviting them to compete in mixed crews.
By January 17, she should know if she can go to Beijing for a fourth Olympic Games, which would in itself be a victory.
© 2021 AFP