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Monobob Presents A Unique Opportunity For Women’s Bobsled Pilots

By Steve Drumwright | Jan. 31, 2022, 8:37 p.m. (ET)

Kaillie Humphries poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.

 

For all of Kaillie Humphries’ Olympic experience, the upcoming Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will see her breaking new ground in more ways than one.

When the 36-year-old bobsledder hits the course at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre northwest of Beijing, Humphries will do so as a U.S. Olympian. A 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold medalist and 2018 bronze medalist for Team Canada in the two-woman bobsled, Humphries became an American citizen on Dec. 2, a little more than two months before the Feb. 4 Opening Ceremony.

But the Carlsbad, California, resident will also be a medal favorite in an event making its Olympic debut: women’s monobob. It is one of seven new events at this year’s Winter Games.

Previously, the two-woman competition was the only bobsled event for females, while men have had the two- and four-man races. The International Olympic Committee added monobob as a second event for women in this Olympic cycle, giving both genders two medal events.

As the name implies, monobob is a single competitor doing all of the work, from pushing at the start to driving and braking over the icy course. Humphries has made an immediate impact, winning the inaugural world championship in 2021 and finishing second on the just completed monobob world series, trailing only American teammate and fellow Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor.

“The advantages to being by yourself is everything’s up to you,” said Humphries, also the two-time reigning world champion in the two-woman bobsled. “If you have a great run, you know it’s because you did it. You pushed hard, you pushed really fast, you drove really well. Also on the back end if you make a mistake, it’s solely on you. There’s nobody to hide or blame or anything else. It’s 100 percent up to you.”

To keep things even, all of the sleds weigh 162 kilograms (357 pounds) — the same as the two-woman sled — and are made by the same manufacturer. That means it all comes down to the athlete’s skill as to who navigates the track the fastest.

Humphries, considered one of the best drivers in the world, said the biggest differences between monobob and other bobsled races is weight distribution and timing of making turns. While the weight is more over the axles in the two-woman bobsled, the driver’s body is in the center of the sled in monobob, which can cause a bit more of a fishtailing effect.

Kaillie Humphries poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.

 

“We’re minus an entire female body on the sled, so we are definitely a good 80 kilos (176 pounds) light or lighter,” Humphries said. “It’s kind of like if you’re driving a little tiny sports car vs. a big truck. Driving’s still driving, but the weight that you feel when you go to take a corner and how hard you take the corner and the speed at which you come in at it feels different in a big truck vs. a car.”

While still disappointed in the disparity in the number of male bobsledders to female (the men inherently get more Olympic athletes due to the four-man event), Humphries did note that monobob has a lower barrier to entry than the other bobsled events, allowing access to a number of countries who might not otherwise have the athletes or resources to compete in the two- or four-person events.

“A lot of the smaller nations that don’t have a huge budget,” Humphries said, “that can’t bring two, three, four girls on tour with a lot of staff, that don’t have a lot of bodies (to compete) or can’t afford to travel the world with big team conglomerates, they’re able to do monobob. ... I think that’s where we are seeing Brazil and a couple of the other countries really succeed and ... participate in the sport with monobob, and I think that’s great.”

Even before leaving Team Canada for Team USA, Humphries and Meyers Taylor spent summers training together, so while their rivalry has an intense competitive edge, it is also between friends.

“I think we’re able to prove that you can be friends and competitors at an extremely high level at the same point, you don’t have to hate the people that are around you,” Humphries said. “If I can’t be at the top, I certainly hope it’s her. I know how hard she works and how dedicated of an athlete she is. And that motivates me to also push myself in order to be that.” 

Having reached the Olympic podium three times already for Canada, twice with gold around her neck, Humphries knows her experience will be quite different in Beijing. 

“To be able to represent the United States understanding that a couple months ago, I didn’t know if I would be here, I didn’t know if my citizenship would come through in time,” said Humphries, who is married to Travis Armbruster, a former U.S. bobsledder. “To know that a country supported me and backed me and provided me a safe place in order to continue my life and my career and this is where I’m going to raise my family this is where I live, I am very proud to represent the Stars and Stripes and I will do so to the best of my ability.

“Competing for Canada, I was very proud when I competed for them to do the same thing. So the feeling of pride and competition at an Olympics for your country doesn't change, but the feelings associated with what it means to be an American is very different for me than the feelings of what it meant to be a Canadian athlete, and I am so proud and honored to be a part of Team USA, to represent the United States and I’m going to do so with every ounce of being that I possibly have inside me.”

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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