Humphries to race with men in 4-man bobsled

Kaillie Humphries. Larry MacDougal/CP

CALGARY — Kaillie Humphries will be the test case, the guinea pig if you will, on females racing with and against men in bobsled.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist in women’s bobsled has been given the green light to pilot a four-man sled with male brakemen.

FIBT essentially declared Thursday that four-man bobsled is "gender neutral", which allows for mixed teams and all-female teams to compete against men’s four-man sleds.

Humphries asked the FIBT at the organization’s congress in May to allow her to pilot a men’s sled. With just six weeks until the start of the 2014-15 racing season, the executive committee essentially said yes.

While it leaves national bobsled federations scrambling to figure out how this will work, Humphries was elated Thursday.

"This day and age, it’s something I feel the world is ready for," the Calgarian told The Canadian Press. "I need new challenges and this is a huge one. I think for me knowing another four-year cycle means pushing myself, pushing the limits, the target on my back is a lot bigger.

"I don’t want to ever become complacent. And I know this is a challenge that will not allow that to happen. This is something that will challenge me mentally and physically to step up my game."

Women’s bobsled was introduced as an Olympic sport in 2002 as a two-person event, while the men continued to race two-man and four-man sleds.

Humphries and brakeman Heather Moyse of Summerside, P.E.I., defended their Olympic title in Sochi, Russia, in February after claiming gold four years ago in Whistler, B.C. The two women were Canada’s flagbearers at the closing ceremonies in Sochi.

Humphries will attempt a three-peat in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

The 29-year-old has won 11 of her 15 career World Cup races as well as a pair of women’s world championships.

She intends to pilot a sled with male brakemen at Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s selection races in Calgary in October. Humphries does not yet know who her Canadian crewmen will be.

American bobsledder Steven Holcomb has compared driving a two-man sled to a sports car and a four-man to a school bus.

"I’ve driven four-man before. I drove in Whistler last season for a couple of runs and I drove in Calgary a couple of years ago," Humphries said. "I understand and I know on two different tracks the feeling.

"I haven’t had time to perfect it or understand it on all the different tracks around the world. There’s going to be some easy parts and some extremely challenging parts.

"The sled is longer. The weight is a lot greater. Now we’ve got three guys pushing at the beginning, not just for the added weight, but also the starts are faster, the velocity is greater, the G-force, the impact on your body is greater."

Men’s size and strength gives them an advantage in push starts, but a good pilot can make up time down the track.

"As a pilot, my actual steering does not change and the venues won’t change," Humphries said. "My competition will change and the added pressure and stress will be different."

Humphries hopes the FIBT’s declaration opens the door for a separate four-woman competition in the future.

"Wanting to leave a legacy, for me that is very important," she said. "Opening the door for women to be able to compete in the four-man event, eventually hopefully women will have their own event in four man, but for now this bridges the gap until that happens."

This development is a mixed blessing for BCS as there are many questions to be answered, says chief executive officer Don Wilson.

"As far as our federation is concerned, we are very pleased that athletes have a greater opportunity to participate at a higher level," Wilson said.

"The issue all federations will be dealing with is how do we do this? Had this decision been made the day after the Olympics, then everybody would have had four, five, six months.

"Where the athletes are concerned, they say ‘yeah, this is good.’ As we all know, there’s other things associated with it."

With the world’s top female pilot and the woman pushing for this change under BCS’s umbrella, other federations will be watching Canada to see how Humphries pursues breaking gender barriers.

In order to graduate from developmental races to the World Cup, pilots must compete in race five races on three different tracks in a two-year span on either the Americas Cup or Europa Cup circuits.

Humphries wants to pilot a four-man sled at Americas Cup races in Park City, Utah, and Calgary in November.

"There’s no special consideration being given," Humphries said. "I have to qualify just like the rest of the men have qualified. I’ve got to do selection races go through the whole Canadian system as normal."

Luge has integrated males and females with a mixed relay event, which made its Olympic debut in Sochi.

FIBT President Ivo Ferriani told The Associated Press that mixed teams could compete as early as the season’s first World Cup, which happens to on Humphries’ home track Dec. 15-21 in Calgary.

"I strongly believe women can drive a four-man and be competitive," Ferriani said. "For us, it’s the natural evolution of our sport."

On the possibility of mixed teams competing in Pyeongchang, Ferriani cautioned it was "too soon to create too much speculation."

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