Kaillie Humphries stood in a familiar place on the podium, a recognizable medal around her neck, quietly singing a different national anthem than at her past Olympics triumphs.
The moment was about more than just the gold around her neck, a win for the United States at the Beijing Games following a contentious split from Bobsleigh Canada, a program she lifted to new heights by winning three Olympic medals.
“This one feels more emotional than most,” Humphries said. “It just hits the heartstrings a little bit to know I had to fight so hard for something that I wanted and I had the backing and the support sitting behind me and it worked.”
After winning a bronze medal in 2018, Humphries filed a formal complaint of mental and verbal abuse against Todd Hays, a coach for Bobsleigh Canada. She asked to be released from the program, initiating a protracted standoff.
Other countries recruited Humphries with the offer of immediate citizenship to compete in Beijing under their flag. Humphries instead waited out the lengthy process it took to become a US citizen with no assurances that the request would be processed in enough time to compete in Beijing.
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She became a naturalized US citizen in December, allowing just enough of a window to qualify for the Games. On Monday, she won the Olympics’ inaugural monobob event, in which one female athlete pushes and pilots her sled down the icy track.
Humphries zigzagged for a four-run total time of 4 minutes 19.27 seconds. Elana Meyers Taylor, who was chosen as a flag-bearer for the opening ceremony, but tested positive for the coronavirus, left quarantine in time to win silver for the United States. Christine de Bruin, of Canada, was the bronze medalist.
Humphries, 36, now has three Olympic gold medals following her victories in the two-woman bobsled event at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Games. No other woman has won more than one gold since the International Olympic Committee introduced women’s bobsled at the 2002 Olympics.
But this win was different, notably when Meyers Taylor greeted Humphries at the end of her final run and the two draped themselves with American flags. Friends and rivals, the two have traded wins and places among the World Cup circuit for more than a decade.
Meyers Taylor won bronze pushing Erin Pac’s two-woman sled in 2010. She became a pilot, assuming more control of her sled and her destiny. She won silver with Lauryn Williams in 2014 and with Lauren Gibbs four years later.
On Monday, she took silver, behind Humphries.
“Nobody was catching her today,” Meyers Taylor said, adding: “We’ve had our differences as teammates. I think it was actually easier when she was competing for Canada to be friends, because we’re not competing for resources. We’re not competing for brakemen and all these different types of things. But I have so much respect for her.”
Bobsled is a family endeavor for the 37-year-old Meyers Taylor. She traveled to Beijing with her husband, Nic, an alternate for the men’s team, their two-year-old son, Nico, and her father, Eddie Meyers.
When the entire family eventually tested positive for coronavirus, Meyers Taylor isolated away from them. She followed the workouts Taylor crafted for her in the cramped hotel room and pumped breast milk to feed Nico.
“It feels better than gold,” Meyers Taylor said. “This is definitely the most difficult medal I’ve ever earned. It’s definitely been the hardest journey to get here, so this is the most special by far and I am so excited to take this medal back to my son.”
The IOC announced monobob’s Olympic inclusion in 2018, but only for women. Men are still the only competitors in the four-man event.
“What I would love to see in our sport is that men get the opportunity to do monobob and that women get the opportunity to do four-man and our sport grows and actually becomes very equal,” Humphries said.
Humphries and Meyers Taylor will have another opportunity to add to their combined eight Olympic medals at the Beijing Games. The two-woman bobsled event starts on Feb. 18.