At her fourth Games, bobsledder Kaillie Humphries has a new country — and a new mission

KAILLIE HUMPHRIES STANDS in the middle of Canada Olympic Drive in Calgary, tears welling in her eyes. As she bends to retrieve her bobsled equipment from the middle of the street, she wonders how her career has come to this. It’s the summer of 2018, five months after her bronze medal performance at the Pyeongchang Olympics and one month after she sent emails to Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton and the Canadian Olympic Committee alleging emotional and mental harassment by her head coach, Todd Hays.

“So, this is what you get when you stand up and say, ‘I don’t feel safe in my environment’?” Humphries asks her mom, Cheryl Simundson, as they pick up pairs of spikes and sled runners, push handles and helmets, equipment Humphries purchased and used to win three Olympic medals — two of them gold — for Team Canada. Simundson doesn’t know how to respond. Her daughter has always been strong-willed and fiercely committed to her goals, and she knows those tears mean Bobsleigh Canada is in for a fight.

“That was the beginning of the worst of it,” Simundson says. “When I saw Kaillie’s life tossed like garbage into the middle of the road.”

Earlier that afternoon, a rep from Bobsleigh Canada had called to inform Humphries that the shipping container carrying the team’s Olympic equipment from South Korea had arrived in Calgary. At the time, Humphries was living with her boyfriend, former U.S. bobsled athlete Travis Armbruster, in San Diego, but visiting her parents at their home in Signal Hill, about 15 minutes from Canada Olympic Park.

“They told her she had 45 minutes to pick up her gear,” Simundson says. “But they didn’t have the decency to let her into the building. After everything she had done for Bobsleigh Canada, after her third Olympic medal, her life was tossed into a heap.”

Humphries, 36, doesn’t think about that day often. After competing for Bobsleigh Canada for 16 years, she felt she, too, was being tossed away by the organization. Standing out front of the track on which she’d trained for nearly two decades, the most decorated woman in the sport’s history didn’t know if she would ever pilot a bobsled again.

Three years later, Humphries is married to Armbruster, gearing up for her fourth Olympics and competing for a new country. Her allegations are still under investigation in Canada and in December, she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Bobsleigh Canada says it abides by its harassment and discrimination policy and believes it has a safe training environment for all athletes. Hays has never addressed Humphries’ allegations in the media, but several Canadian athletes have publicly defended him. Hays is also suing Humphries for defamation.

Humphries hopes to put much of the past three years behind her. But she also hopes her presence in Beijing, where she is a gold-medal favorite in two-woman and monobob, helps to elevate a conversation about what she believes is a long overdue need for an international database for reporting coaching abuse, as well as protection by the International Olympic Committee for athletes who speak up about abuse within their programs.

“The people I filed my case against all still have their jobs,” Humphries says. “Because I spoke out, I got everything taken away and had to start again from ground zero in a new country. But I had options. What I fear is for the athletes who don’t have options, so they stay in a bad situation to chase their dreams.”

HUMPHRIES HELD A gold medal in her hands the day she decided to become an Olympian. Shortly after the 1992 Barcelona Games, Calgary swimmer Mark Tewksbury, a client of Humphries’ father, Ray, a financial planner, came to dinner at the Simundson home. He handed a 7-year-old Humphries the gold medal he won in the 100-meter backstroke. She ran her fingers across its raised surface, passed it between her hands and slipped its brightly striped ribbon around her neck. “I’m going to win an Olympic gold medal,” Humphries declared from atop her dining room chair. “OK, honey,” Cheryl said. “Sit back down and finish dinner.'”

Humphries homed in on ski racing. She excelled in the downhill and super-G and, around age 14, was named to the Canadian national development team. The Winter Olympics in her focus, she made a deal with her parents. “I don’t know where it came from, but tattoos were currency to Kaillie,” Cheryl says. “They motivated her. So, we agreed that the first national team she made, she could get her first tattoo. The whole family would get one, too.”

On the mountain, Humphries felt comfortable, able to express and assert herself. But outside of competition, she struggled to connect with kids her age. Although she preferred to spend weekends tuning her skis, a part of her also wanted to be invited to parties and share secrets with the “in” crowd. “She was about 10 and was winning a lot,” Cheryl says. “She went to a camp with her ski racing club and a girl put Jell-O in Kaillie’s pillow and sleeping bag. Back then, Kaillie just took it. But she’s told me that even then, she thought, ‘I’m not going to let that happen to me again. I won’t let the bullies win.'”

At 15, Humphries broke each of her legs in separate crashes. Both injuries required lengthy, painful rehab and when she returned to racing, she was unable to push aside the fear of crashing. “I was good at the speed events, but they started to scare the crap out of me,” Humphries says. “I’d slow myself down and speed check. I couldn’t turn it off.”

Humphries made an honest assessment of her potential and accepted the harsh reality that she wasn’t going to make the Olympics as a ski racer. That meant she needed to find another sport to remain at Calgary’s National Sport School, which supports athletes with Olympic potential.

A family friend mentioned to Cheryl that Bobsleigh Canada was looking for new talent and holding a tryout at the Olympic track not far from the Simundson home. As a sports-obsessed kid, Humphries remembers driving past the track made famous by the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings.” She and her parents didn’t know much about the sport, but Ray drove her to the COP and stood trackside as she partnered with an experienced driver and pushed a 300-pound, two-woman sled out of the start gate. “He came home and said, ‘They want her,'” Cheryl says.

Humphries earned an invite to a formal camp and, after a year of training as a brakeman, was named to the national team. That same month, the Simundson family arrived at a tattoo parlor and made good on their promises. Mom got an angel above her left ankle. Humphries’ younger sister, Jordan, got butterflies on her back. “Dad got the classic Pamela Anderson barbed wire armband,” says Humphries, who sat for her only color tattoo to date: a bobsled and a red maple leaf in the center of her right thigh. Her youngest sister, Shelby, was only 12 and settled for a pink rhinestone bellybutton ring.

Four years later, Humphries was one of the youngest bobsled athletes at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, where she traveled, as Kaillie Simundson, with the Canadian team as an alternate. (In 2007, she would marry U.K. bobsledder Dan Humphries and take his last name. The couple divorced in 2014, but she continues to use his name publicly.) Humphries walked in the opening and closing ceremonies and supported her teammates on race days.

The experience humbled her and made her want to take her bobsled career into her own hands. When she returned to Calgary, she began training to become a driver. “I realized I needed to become a pilot. I couldn’t be in a position again where somebody else decides my fate.”

TWO POSITIONS DEFINE the sport of bobsled, or bobsleigh, as it’s known internationally: pilots (or drivers) and push athletes (brakemen and crew). Pilots push the sled at the start, then jump into the front of the hull and steer the sled down the track using a two-handed pulley system that controls the front runners, or the sharp, ski-like fixtures on the bottom of the sled. They meticulously memorize the track’s curves in order to determine the fastest, safest line to the finish. The position requires size, power, speed, reaction time and fear management.

“A lot of the skills I learned in ski racing make me a really good bobsled pilot,” Humphries says. “How to see a line, how far to look ahead, how to memorize a track — but in bobsled, there’s no speed checking. You can’t slow yourself down, so that’s allowed me to move past the mental barriers that stopped me in ski racing.”

Conventional wisdom says it takes eight to 10 years to develop a top bobsled pilot. “It took me four years to be good,” says Humphries, who won her first Olympic gold medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010. “That’s pretty unheard of.”

In two-woman, the brakemen also push the sled at the start and are responsible for pulling the brake lever after the sled crosses the finish line. They tend to be lighter than pilots, quick and fast, and require less time to learn the position, which draws sprinters at the end of their track careers and elite athletes from power sports like football and wrestling.

“Ideally, a brakeman sets herself apart, but brakemen are more interchangeable,” Humphries says.

Pairing a pilot with a brakeman is a science all its own, and decisions are often made week to week by a selection committee based on a combination of pilot input, team chemistry, experience, push times, combined athlete weight, recent results, improvement over the previous week and coach’s discretion. Some pairings are as obvious as placing the No. 1 brakeman in the back of the No. 1 pilot’s sled. But it’s rarely that simple.

“This is the biggest challenge in our sport because it’s based on a mix of subjectivity and objectivity,” says U.S. women’s head coach Mike Kohn. “There are a lot of variables, and everyone has an opinion on which are the most important.”

At the 2010 Olympics, Humphries won with Heather Moyse and the pair was nominated for 2010 Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation. Together, they dominated the sport and in 2014 became the first women to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in bobsled. They were named Canada’s flag-bearers for the closing ceremony in Sochi.

Humphries was named SportAccord’s inaugural Sportswoman of the Year and beat out NHL star Sidney Crosby and tennis sensation Eugenie Bouchard to win the 2014 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s outstanding athlete. She was invited to be grand marshal of the opening parade of the Calgary Stampede and became the international face of her sport. The woman who was once, in her words, “not a very popular kid,” had become one of the most popular athletes in Canada. But that didn’t always extend to her relationships within the sport.

An outspoken advocate for more equitable treatment for women in bobsledding, Humphries often battled with the international federation and her own governing body. Not unlike other Olympic sports, women’s bobsled has a short history compared to its male counterpart. Men’s four-man was included in the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924 and two-man was added in 1932. The first Olympic two-woman race took place in 2002. Women were granted one-third the number of athlete spots as the men, and they have never raced the four-man event in Olympic competition. Women’s monobob makes its debut in Beijing, but the event does not add to the overall athlete count, as only drivers who already qualified in two-woman will compete.

Humphries and American pilot Elana Meyers Taylor have been tireless advocates for greater opportunities for women in the sport, including adding four-man to international competition and — until then — allowing women to race against men. More events would mean more talent entering the sport, as well as greater funding.

“I was raised in a household where I was limited by my ability, not by my gender,” Humphries says. “But when I came to bobsled, I learned women can’t drive on certain tracks, don’t get the same prize money, can’t drive four-man,” Humphries says. “Why do the guys get the good start house, and we get a tent in St. Moritz with a little heater? Why can’t we drive the same track or have the same prize money? We’re doing the same job. It’s not just me who feels this way, but those of us who speak up are not popular because we disrupt the old boys’ club.”

Humphries believes her outspokenness and willingness to battle with her federation made her unpopular with some of her teammates and those in charge, and perhaps made them less likely to fight for her when the time came. Humphries’ individual accolades and fiery competitiveness also earned her a reputation for being stubborn and difficult. She became known for asking for more than the federation could reasonably provide, for bullying her teammates and not putting the national team ahead of herself. “You don’t get to pick your teammates,” Humphries says. “Some I loved. Some I absolutely hated. But you learn how to communicate with all of them and work together with respect and toward a common goal. Same with coaches. I’ve seen a lot of different leadership styles. But I never had a problem. Until I did.”

IN THE THREE years leading up to the 2014 Olympics, Humphries says she witnessed U.S. women’s head coach Todd Hays scream at athletes in start areas at races. She says friends on that team confided in her that they feared Hays’ temper and outbursts.

“As our coach, it was very tumultuous,” says Meyers Taylor, a three-time U.S. Olympic medalist and a podium favorite in two-woman and monobob in Beijing. “On one hand, I wouldn’t be the driver I am without Todd. He taught me a ton about the sport. But a lot of stuff that went on, I don’t think was right. I don’t think athletes should be treated that way.”

Meyers Taylor said she was physically intimidated by Hays, who is 6-foot-2 and was an MMA fighter before he transitioned to bobsled. “Yes, I was scared of him,” she says. “He’s a big guy. I know he says he’s never yelled at an athlete, so let’s call it him talking sternly. It’s very intimidating.”

In the spring of 2012, Meyers Taylor and six other women on the U.S. bobsled team called a meeting in Lake Placid with Darrin Steele, then-CEO of USA Bobsled, and shared their concerns about Hays. “We shared how traumatizing and scary it was and that we didn’t feel safe,” says a U.S. athlete who wishes not to be named. “But nothing was done about it.”

Steele says nothing he heard in that meeting “rose to the level of crossing the line or being abusive.” He did not dismiss the women’s concerns, he says, but reminded them that they chose Hays as their coach and that a coaching change in the middle of an Olympic cycle could be more disruptive. “They wanted him to be more gentle, and thought he was too harsh and too critical. I would agree with that,” Steele says. “I reminded them that none of this is a surprise. He was the kind of coach we expected when we hired him. He’s not known for being a warm and fuzzy guy.”

A year and a half later, after the most successful Olympics in the program’s history, Hays was out. “Todd’s contract was not renewed when the coaching staff was restructured after the 2014 Olympics,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton said in a statement provided to ESPN.

According to Steele, Hays was let go because he wasn’t the collaborative coach Steele needed moving forward. “I consolidated the men’s and women’s teams, and I had a vision of the coaches working together as a team and sharing information and technology,” Steele says. “That was not at all Todd’s style. I didn’t have a vision of the teams competing amongst themselves. I wanted them to cooperate. That’s not how he’s wired.”

In 2018, the athlete who wishes to remain anonymous filed a complaint about Hays with SafeSport, but says she was never contacted for an interview. Meyers Taylor says she, too, filed a formal complaint in 2018 and doesn’t know what became of it. SafeSport did not respond to a request for comment.

Steele remained with the program until summer 2019, when the USABS board of directors fired him. He is currently VP of Sport for the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation.

“I don’t know that anybody has paid a price for anything that has gone wrong in this federation,” Meyers Taylor says. “People lose their jobs, but they just end up getting rehired by another country. Darrin did great things for the program, but the situation with Todd, he definitely missed.”

After leaving the U.S. team, Hays coached the Jamaican bobsled team for a year before landing in Canada as a mechanic in 2016. A year later, in September 2017, Bobsleigh Canada elevated him to men’s and women’s head coach over longtime coach Stephan Bosch, an unusual move just a few months before an Olympics.

Humphries says despite her reservations about Hays, she believed she would figure out how to communicate with him, just as she had with every coach throughout her career. “You witness the public embarrassment of other athletes he’s coaching and you think, ‘Well, that’s not right, but at least it’s not happening to me,'” Humphries says. “And then he comes to your team. But I thought, I’ll stand up for myself. I’m a two-time gold medalist. Maybe we can make a great team.'”

SIX WEEKS BEFORE the 2018 Winter Olympics, Humphries called Armbruster from a World Cup race. “She said, ‘I’m done,'” Armbruster says. “That was when it was apparent something was really wrong.”

A week into his tenure as head coach, Hays’ relationship with Humphries became combative, according to Humphries. “I had a difference of opinion with him on how the women’s team was being run and I questioned his methods,” she says. “That proceeded to a giant yelling match in a gym in front of national team athletes and coaches from other sports. I’m being screamed at and diminished and publicly humiliated. After about 20 minutes, I start crying and walk away.”

According to Humphries, these types of blowups happened every few weeks. She says she began to internalize Hays’ constant criticism. She questioned herself during training runs and lost confidence in and out of the sled. “I’m in the sled going, ‘Is this right? Is this not right?’ As a bobsled pilot, I second-guess a decision at 90 miles per hour, I have someone else’s life in my hands.”

Humphries says she was not the only Canadian pilot Hays treated this way, but because those athletes chose not to speak publicly and are still competing for Hays, she does not want to go into details.

After hanging up with Armbruster that December evening, Humphries says she walked to a bar across the street from her hotel and found Bobsleigh Canada president Sarah Storey. “I go straight in there, crying and say, ‘That’s it. I’m done. Send me home,'” Humphries says.

To keep her on the team, Humphries says the Canadian Olympic Committee and Bobsleigh Canada agreed that she and Hays would have no contact through the duration of the 2018 Games. “We communicated through the Canadian Olympic Committee, the high-performance director, my personal coach and my therapist,” Humphries says. “For two weeks, he did not touch my sled or talk to me.”

Humphries and brakeman Phylicia George took bronze in Pyeongchang. When they returned to Canada, Humphries says she believed she would continue to have no personal contact with Hays. At a post-Olympic party in Ottawa that March, she says she spoke with Storey again for several hours and was told, “He’s the head coach and you have to deal with him,” Humphries says. “That made me feel uneasy and unheard. If I feel unsafe around somebody and I tell you I am unsure if his verbal assault is going to turn into a physical altercation and you say, ‘Too bad, go back to him,’ then you are just as guilty.”

In July 2018, Humphries sent an email outlining her concerns to Bobsleigh Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee. In it, she wrote that she did not feel safe in her environment and was not able to work with Hays. “That enacted the discrimination and harassment policy. I had to seek getting a lawyer,” Humphries says.

That August, through an attorney, Humphries filed a formal harassment complaint with Bobsleigh Canada, which included a copy of her initial email. “I was verbally and mentally abused by our Head Coach Todd Hays,” the complaint begins. “The part that got me was that while I expressed concern throughout the entire season for specific incidents, nothing was ever done about it by the people who are supposed to keep us safe.”

Humphries detailed six incidents with Hays between September 2017 and February 2018 in the complaint, and alleged that Storey and high-performance director, Chris Le Bihan, breached the organization’s discrimination and harassment policy by failing to address the alleged misconduct when they became aware of it. She asked that they be dismissed from their roles.

Bobsleigh Canada did not make Storey, Le Bihan or Hays available for interviews, instead providing ESPN with a statement regarding Humphries’ complaint.

“Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton abides by its harassment and discrimination policy that has been in place since 2006,” the statement reads, in part. “Under that policy, BCS also adheres to the confidentiality and privacy that is required to protect the due process rights for all parties.”

While the organization investigated her claims, Humphries sat out the 2018-19 season and spent most of those months at her home in California. During that time, she experienced daily headaches and neck pain, nausea and sleepless nights, and broke out in hives and rashes. She was diagnosed with depression.

Publicly, none of Humphries’ Canadian teammates supported her claims, although in private conversations, she says several women shared with her their fears of speaking out while Hays still controlled the team. They told her Hays told them she would receive old, substandard equipment if she returned for the 2019 season and said Hays warned them not to work with her if they wanted to make the next Olympic team.

In September 2019, Justin Kripps, the 2018 Olympic two-man gold medalist and Humphries’ former teammate, told CBC Sports: “The allegations [Humphries] has against the program haven’t been my experience, nor the experience of the vast majority of the athletes on the national team … It’s not this horrible, toxic environment that we train and compete in. It’s very positive and safe and supportive.” Two pilots on the women’s team, Cynthia Appiah and Alysia Rissling, agreed with Kripps on Twitter. “I can’t comment on the harassment case, but @justinkripps comments do resonate with returning athletes,” Appiah wrote. “The culture on the team has had a remarkably different and upward tone since the 2017/2018 season.”

But Humphries says she never claimed Hays harassed, abused or discriminated against every member of the Canadian team. She claimed he did those things to her. “Other athletes have loved working with [Hays] and I wish every athlete had that experience. I didn’t,” Humphries says. “And I know other people who didn’t. Part of me making my claim so publicly was making everybody aware of what I’ve gone through and what I feel, regardless of what it was going to do to me. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t say something, and another female athlete went through what I went through. I would feel so broken.”

Further complicating public perception of Humphries’ claim, a 2018 letter Steele wrote to Storey became public in September 2019. “Some of the athletes who lacked mental toughness were critical of Mr. Hays, but they were the same athletes who were unable to deliver the excellence he expected,” Steele wrote in 2018. “Todd Hays is one of the best coaches in the world and he is not only eligible for rehire to the U.S. program, it is expected that he return to the U.S. program at some point in the future.”

Steele says he wrote the letter after Storey requested he put into writing why Hays was dismissed from the U.S. team in 2014. “It was being alleged that Todd was terminated for being abusive,” Steele says. “That wasn’t true, and it bothered me that people were saying that about him. I didn’t intend on that being a public document.”

Steele says he didn’t know at the time that two of his athletes had filed SafeSport claims against Hays, or the details that led to those claims. “It was an honest statement based on what I had seen and what I knew at the time,” he says. “Now that I know it’s more than a couple athletes with an issue with him, I would have worded that letter differently.”

SEEING NO WAY back to Bobsleigh Canada, Humphries requested a release from the team so she could pursue competing for the U.S. She’d lived in the States since 2016, planned to marry Armbruster and her paternal grandfather, Ron, was a U.S. citizen. She contacted USA Bobsled and was told if she secured a release, she would be welcomed into the program.

At first, Bobsleigh Canada denied her request for competitive reasons, so Humphries sued the organization for $45 million for blocking her release. “I needed to get their attention,” she says.

In September 2019, on the eve of the deadline, Bobsleigh Canada granted her release. Two weeks earlier, their internal investigation found insufficient evidence to support Humphries’ harassment claims. She appealed the result with the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada (SDRCC) and nearly two years later, in July 2021, an SDRCC arbitrator found Bobsleigh Canada’s investigation to be “neither thorough or reasonable,” and ordered Bobsleigh Canada to hire a new third-party investigator from the SDRCC’s investigation unit. That investigation has yet to begin.

In their statement, Bobsleigh Canada said that they will continue to respect “the confidentiality of the ongoing legal process … and will continue to do so, out of respect to all parties involved until the ongoing reinvestigation is complete at which time, we will provide additional comment on the matter.”

In July 2020, Hays sued Humphries for $200,000 plus court costs for defamation related to statements she made in her initial e-mail and claim. That case is ongoing. Hays’ attorneys did not respond to a request for an interview.

After receiving her release, Humphries took out loans to purchase a $70,000 sled to try out for the U.S. team. (She sold it after she made the team.) “I had to go to team trials, enter in a guest class, do the combine and prove like every athlete that I deserve to be on Team USA,” Humphries says.

Before she did any of that, though, she called Meyers Taylor. The two women have known each other for more than a decade, attended each other’s weddings and shared the past three Olympic podiums. “I said, ‘Are you okay with me coming to Team USA, understanding you are inviting me, a wolf, into your henhouse?” Humphries says. “Elana said, ‘Any female deserves to be safe in her environment. But if you come here, I’ll find a way to be better than you.'”

Meyers Taylor says she understood what Humphries was going through, and she wanted to support her in continuing her career.

“Whenever something happens to you, you question if your perception of what happened is accurate,” Meyers Taylor says. “But when your close friend has a similar experience, it hits you that not only were you experiencing what you thought you experienced, but you have the urge to be protective and help her. In part, you feel responsible. You think, ‘I should have done more and spoke up earlier.’ I’ve talked to the Canadian girls, and they had an opportunity to share their experiences and they didn’t step forward. That makes it more difficult for Kaillie and for athletes in this situation. If you step out and are alone, I can imagine it’s very isolating.”

Hays’ former athlete who wished to remain anonymous says when she heard Bobsleigh Canada had hired Hays, she believed if anyone could handle him, it would be Humphries.

“I thought, ‘Kaillie is one of the toughest athletes I know,'” she says. “But it was shocking and sad to see the same thing play out. I think about how isolating what she is going through must be. If there is a chance to back her up, then that needs to be done. But a bunch of women were scared silent.”

“KAILLIE! YOU WERE right! The chips are good!”

It’s October 2021, less than a week before Humphries leaves to begin the 2021-22 competition season and she’s sprinting behind a homemade dryland bobsled in the cul-de-sac outside of her Carlsbad, Calif., home. She’s dressed in black leggings, a flowery sports bra and running shoes. The well-defined muscles of her shoulders and upper back flex powerfully with every step. An American flag headband wraps her light blonde hair, and a tapestry of tattoos covers nearly all of what her clothing does not.

At the end of her makeshift track, Humphries slows her pace, lets go of the push handle and jogs toward her 13-year-old neighbor, Mallery, who is standing on her front lawn holding a bag of Ruffles All Dressed potato chips, a Canadian specialty. “Her teacher assigned her to select a country and give an oral report about its culture,” Humphries says. “She chose Canada, so I showed her a loonie and a toonie and my mom sent a box of Canadian stuff.”

Humphries is also teaching her young neighbor about bobsled, an activity most residents of this quiet beachside neighborhood knew little about before she moved to town. Now, watching their Olympian neighbor push a metal sled on wheels has become an oddly common part of their days. They followed intently as she won three world championships for Team USA in 2020 and 2021 and raced the calendar to secure a U.S. passport in time to compete in Beijing.

Although federation rules allow Humphries to compete for the U.S. in world cups and world championships, IOC rules do not allow her in Olympic competition without holding a passport. For months, it appeared her approval would come nearly a year after the 2022 Games.

But thanks to a deluge of media attention, a push from the USOPC and the help of multiple U.S. senators, Humphries was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in early December, less than one month before the deadline for Kohn to name the U.S. team. He says in the past three years, Humphries has brought more than just medals. “Sometimes, people who come from a bad environment might not be willing to embrace teamwork, but she’s great about that,” Kohn says. “As a coach, I can’t put the motivation and desire into you, and she brings that every day. She makes our job easy.”

Kohn says he’s never asked Humphries about her experience with Hays, his former teammate. But when she arrived on the U.S. team, he asked her one question: How do you like to be coached? “I’ve learned she is very direct and needs direct feedback. She’s passionate but not emotional,” Kohn says. “She is talented and experienced and has the tools necessary to solve her own problems. She just needs to talk it through and someone to listen and bounce things off, and do it in a calm, respectful way. That’s what I try to do.”

While she was home for Christmas, Humphries received her passport. A stream of neighbors knocked on her front door to congratulate her. “My neighbors don’t care if I compete in Beijing,” Humphries says. “To them, I’m more than just an athlete. I try to remind myself of that, that I’m more than an Olympic gold medal.”

HUMPHRIES DOESN’T VISUALIZE herself standing on the medal podium in Beijing. Instead, she says she visualizes having great starts and how she wants to drive each curve of the track. She’s at home in Carlsbad with her husband and parents a few days after Christmas, a time she’s using to work out, relax and refresh her mind. She says if the past three years — and a global pandemic — have taught her anything, it’s to navigate life like a bobsled track. Don’t look too far ahead and drive one turn at a time.

She has bigger goals for herself and for her sport, she says, but for now, she has two World Cup races to focus on, and then the Games. One thing Humphries does allow herself to think about is potentially sharing a fourth Olympic podium with Meyers Taylor — this time while wearing the same uniform and singing the same tune.

Both women hope sharing their experiences leads to change. “I would like to see the IOC set up a team, like the refugee team, for athletes who are currently involved in SafeSport claims or investigations,” Humphries says. “That would take some of the power from the governing bodies, bad coaches, bad therapists and people who want to abuse power, and empower the athletes. Right now, the wrong people are getting punished, which is why athletes don’t make claims.”

When Humphries thinks about that day outside of the Canada Olympic Park, she is thankful for where she is today, for the team and neighbors who surround and support her and for the opportunity to start over with another coach and in another country. She knows that’s not a privilege every athlete has, and it’s not one she plans to waste. “I really hope I am the last athlete who has to go through this,” Humphries says. “I hope no athlete again has to choose a passport over their physical, mental or sexual wellbeing. I will do everything in my power to make the IOC aware and try to create change for future athletes.”

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