Olympic-champion bobsledder Justin Kripps was working out in Calgary when he heard the latest news about his teammate, two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries.
On Tuesday, a Calgary court ruled that it won’t grant Humphries a release from Team Canada. Instead, her sport’s governing body — Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton (BCS) — will have to decide whether to allow Humphries to compete for Team USA after her claim that the Canadian program didn’t provide her with a safe environment in which to train and compete.
Kripps doesn’t know what’s going to happen next with Humphries. Nobody does. There could be an appeal. BCS could grant the release, or Humphries could come to an agreement with BCS and once again represent her birth country. And BCS doesn’t want to lose Humphries, as its high-performance director, Chris Le Bihan, made clear when he told reporters: “We want Kaillie in our program.”
But none of Humphries’ Canadian teammates have publicly expressed that same sentiment. And that’s perhaps the loudest message of all.
“I think that she should do what’s best for her,” Kripps said. “If she wants to come back to the Canadian program, the program’s not going to block her. But I think that, you know, she will have to be a team player. And if she’s willing to do that, everybody will be glad to have her back.”
Several sources have informed Sportsnet that Humphries has been anything but a team player to date. They say that she doesn’t work with other pilots, that she has been selfish with BCS’s limited resources, that the consensus is the team would be better off without her — from a morale standpoint, at least. Sportsnet’s request for an interview with Humphries was not returned.
Alysia Rissling is a fellow pilot — she finished sixth in the last Olympics. In her seven years with the national team, Rissling says none were better for Team Canada as a whole than last season — the one Humphries took off, after filing her harassment claim in August 2018.
“Last season was by far the most camaraderie we’ve had amongst the athletes on the team,” Rissling told Sportsnet. “We had every single team — male, female —working together, helping each other, all trying to build each other up so we can all be successful. And just in the past years prior to that, we haven’t had that same sense. And we had to work very hard at it, it’s something we made a conscious effort to do. And it’s just something that hasn’t happened in years prior.”
Whatever happens next with Humphries — who is also suing BCS for $45 million — there’s already a sense of relief within the Canadian program. Earlier this week, a Calgary court found “no evidence” of the emotional and verbal harassment Humphries alleged she was subject to by Canada’s head coach, Todd Hays.
“I’m just happy a decision has been made and we’re able to move forward,” Rissling said.
It was Kripps who first spoke out on the team’s behalf in support of Hays a couple of days ago.
“From my perspective our coach is getting his name dragged through the mud when there wasn’t any evidence of wrongdoing,” Kripps said. “I’m just happy it’s getting resolved. It’s really important for safe sport to be taken seriously and I know that we train in a very supportive environment. I’m not sure what spurred this entire thing. I’m just happy that we’re getting close to the end of the whole ordeal.”
The rest of the Canadian team has also been vocal in its support for Hays and his treatment of BCS athletes. “While the top performers still are provided with everything that the program can provide them with, he makes sure that other athletes who maybe haven’t got those results still have a chance to get those results, to not have all the resources taken away by the top performers,” Kripps said. “I truly believe that as Canadians we have to stick together and work with each other and build each other up so we can have a chance to win on the world stage.”
“Our training environment is safe and we do feel like it is conducive to high performance,” Rissling added. “Todd has been the strong leader that has come into a team that I would say was pretty broken, in terms of this individual identity that we’ve had within the team. And he’s really brought us together and made all the athletes buy into this idea that we all fight for Canada.”
Nobody knows yet if Humphries will ever fight or sled for Canada again. This isn’t the first time Humphries has considered competing for another country, according to sources. Not long after the 2010 Games, sources say Humphries felt she wasn’t getting adequate support from BCS, and she looked into representing Britain — where her ex-husband is from. Humphries ultimately decided to stay put with Canada.
Her lawyer, Jeffrey Roth, said if Humphries requires a release from BCS, they’ll file an appeal with the Sports Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. She doesn’t live or train here — the 34-year-old is based in the U.S., and she recently married an American. Humphries was hopeful she could have her release granted by the Sept. 30 deadline, which would allow her to represent Team USA this season.
That would mean she’d be teammates with Elana Meyers, the two-time Olympic silver medallist who is one of Humphries’s closest friends and rivals.
“This is coming from the heart of being Kaillie’s friend, and as her friend I’m pretty shocked and I’m upset for her about it,” Meyers said Tuesday of the court’s decision. “As her friend I want her to be in a place to compete where she’s safe and healthy and happy and able to compete to the best of her ability.”
Meyers is relieved that there’s still a chance Humphries could compete for Team USA. But what matters, she said, is that her friend feels safe in her work environment.
“At this point of course she’d be a huge asset to the U.S. team, but I don’t care who she represents — she just needs to be on the ice representing someone,” Meyers said. “It’s a great travesty to the sport if she’s not sliding and if she’s not competing. I don’t know what the sport of bobsled is without her.”
Of that, there is no doubt: The sport needs Humphries. She’s the most talented female bobsleigh pilot ever, and no doubt her championship pedigree drives her competitive nature, which may not make her fun to work with or to be around at times.
Meyers said she gets the sense her friend would “prefer to work with Canada,” but that Humphries didn’t see a way forward as things stood with BCS. Roth, her lawyer, said he couldn’t speak to the possibility of Humphries’ return to representing Canada, that the focus is on moving forward to ensure Humphries can compete for Team USA.
Le Bihan said conversations will be ongoing to try to resolve the relationship, that hopefully Humphries will once again compete under the Canadian flag.
“Kaillie is obviously going to be a threat in the next Olympics, and there’s nothing more that we like to see other than Canadians standing on the podium,” Le Bihan said.
Nobody in the Canadian program is disputing that. But if Humphries does return to the Canadian program, “it will be difficult,” Rissling said.
“We’ve been working so hard to try and build each other up and support each team as a unified Team Canada, rather than each individual pilot’s team separately. Hopefully, if she comes back, she can buy into that and we can all grow and move forward together.”