Kaillie Humphries and Lolo Jones winning a bobsled world championship together would have been an impossible idea two years ago.
Humphries was a Canadian Olympic legend. Jones, an American, thought she would never ride in a sled again.
But on Friday and Saturday, Humphries piloted and Jones pushed the fastest two-woman bobsled in the world. They prevailed by .35 of a second over Germans Kim Kalicki and Ann-Christin Strack combining times from four runs in Altenberg, Germany.
Jones, one of 10 U.S. athletes to compete in both a Summer and Winter Olympics, earned the most prestigious title of her career on either type of track at age 38.
“I didn’t think I would be emotional,” Jones said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “I don’t know if the snow was hitting me at the braking stretch or if I was crying, but I think I was crying.”
Humphries, the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold medalist, became the first four-time world champion in the event. Her sled runners were formerly used by 2010 Olympic champion Steven Holcomb, who died in 2017.
“This one is very unique,” said Humphries, a 35-year-old who broke her tie with retired German Sandra Kiriasis for most women’s world titles. “To be able to partner with Lolo, to know she had faith in me and be able to come back to bobsled and for us to be able to work together to achieve this, it wasn’t without hardships, for sure. I think a lot of people, at some point in our career, we’ve both been written off by quite a few people.”
A seed was planted at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. There, Humphries took bronze for Canada with Phylicia George, who like Jones converted from Olympic hurdler to bobsled push athlete. They had more in common. Jones and George trained together on the track in Baton Rouge, La.
Jones, who made the 2014 U.S. Olympic bobsled team, was left off in 2018. Nevertheless, she became a topic of conversation between the Canadians in South Korea.
“I’d always been really jealous, being part of the Canadian team, of the U.S. team having Lolo,” Humphries said.
Humphries didn’t compete at all in the 2018-19 season. In September 2019, she revealed an estrangement from the Canadian program for more than a year after filing harassment and abuse claims against a coach. Humphries was granted release from Canada and, having married American bobsledder Travis Armbruster, joined the U.S. program.
Around that time, Humphries messaged Jones on Instagram, lobbying her to give bobsled one more try. Jones was at lunch and nearly dropped her phone in shock.
“I was very honest with her. I was like, that’s like me trying to walk back in the lions’ den,” Jones said. “So, it took her a few messages, but I’d be an idiot if I said no to her because who wouldn’t want to be a teammate with Kaillie Humphries? She’s like the Usain Bolt of bobsled.”
There was one more pesky obstacle: Tokyo. Jones was training for one last Summer Olympic bid. So she didn’t return for Humphries’ debut season as an American in 2019-20. Humphries did just fine without her, winning four of seven World Cup starts, plus the world championships (also in Altenberg).
Three weeks after bobsled worlds, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021. Jones swerved and joined an MTV reality show (for a two-sport star, it was aptly named “The Challenge: Double Agents”). After its conclusion, she pretty much went straight to bobsled camp. She reverted to her old bobsled diet — burgers, pizza and protein shakes — to put on 20 pounds to be ready for the season on three weeks of sport-specific training.
“I wondered if I would even have a chance to be able to crack into the circle with no proper prep,” was posted on her Instagram before she was named to the national team after selection races. “I communicated to the coaches and driver my concern about returning in such a unprepared state. But I said eff it. I’ve faced bigger odds than this so regardless of training or prep I’m going to try to make this team.”
Humphries and Jones were paired together for the first time last week and won (Jones’ first World Cup victory in three years). A selection committee kept the pair together for the world championships. Humphries began driving a new sled this week and took five runs in practice before competition began Friday. She still beat all of the top German teams on one of their home tracks.
“She’s pretty much a sniper,” Jones said. “She doesn’t overlook anything, and she’s just really accurate. She’s a really good executioner.”
Humphries still must gain U.S. citizenship to become Olympic eligible.
“That’s outside my control. All the paperwork’s in. Everything’s good to go. I know Covid stalled a lot of the government stuff,” she said. “We’re currently in the process of trying to figure out exactly where things are, but things take time. And getting answers takes time.”
For Jones, time is running out. She is bidding to become the oldest U.S. Olympic female bobsledder in history. She hopes to win that elusive Olympic medal next February in Beijing, where in 2008 she led the Olympic 100m hurdles final when she clipped the penultimate hurdle and stumbled to seventh place.
“Nothing would mean more to me than to face my fears of 12 years of being ridiculed for not getting an Olympic medal, to going back to the same place where everybody said I blew it, everybody called me a failure all these years, and being successful,” Jones said before the season, according to The Associated Press.
On Saturday, hours after her bobsled triumph, Jones was asked if track and field was still part of her future.
“I can’t make those decisions right now,” said Jones, whose greatest international achievements in track were world indoor 60m hurdles titles in 2008 and 2010. “I just want to celebrate today, celebrate this win, because it’s been 11 years since I’ve been on the top of a podium.”
Earlier Saturday, German Francesco Friedrich took the lead by .88 halfway through the two-man event. Friedrich, who took gold in both events at the 2018 Olympics, seeks a seventh consecutive world title in the event on Sunday.
The U.S. men skipped worlds, opting to return home to focus on preparation for next season.
“You should retire.”
11 years since my last World champs medal. 11 years of hate.
Ignore them all. Keep grinding. pic.twitter.com/9cSXgiSKuo
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) February 6, 2021
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