YANQING, China — Kaillie Humphries draped the first-ever Olympic monobob gold medal around her neck early Monday afternoon, smoothing the ribbons with blue-gloved hands. Then as the United States’ national anthem played, the world’s most successful female bobsled driver began to sing.
To her right stood Elana Meyers Taylor, her longtime rival and now U.S. teammate, who had finished second to win the third silver medal of her career. To her left was the bronze medalist, her former Canadian teammate Christine de Bruin. In a small VIP section above her, a group of Canadian sports officials leaned on a railing and watched.
It was as if the past four years had come crashing down to this place and this moment, when, for the first time, “The Star-Spangled Banner” played for her.
“I sing the words every time, and I will sing them every time,” Humphries said.
There was so much happening in that tiny space at the end of the bobsled track high in the mountains outside Beijing. While Humphries savored the culmination of her journey, Meyers Taylor was thrilled to be second after not being sure she would be able to compete. She was locked in isolation for several days after she tested positive for the coronavirus when she arrived in Beijing. And then there were the Canadians, who were trying to move past the explosive divorce from their star driver.
De Bruin, who has become accustomed to Humphries singing her new anthem at the end of international events the past couple of years, looked straight ahead.
“I’m a friendly person; I don’t like conflict,” de Bruin explained.
The Olympics’ first monobob competition — an attempt to create gender parity by adding a second women’s event in a sport long dominated by two- and four-man events — was never really in doubt. The 36-year-old Humphries built a huge lead in Sunday’s first two heats and stretched that further in Monday’s two runs. The only drama was whether Meyers Taylor could medal, too.
Two days before, Meyers Taylor, who has won three silvers and a bronze in four Olympics, sat in the sled storage area, her body still tired from covid and her head foggy, and told U.S. driving coach Brian Shimer she might have to drop out of the event.
“I was that bad mentally,” she said.
“ ‘I don’t know what to tell you. We’re going to do this,’ ” she said he told her.
And somehow she did, with two strong Monday runs to get past de Bruin. After her last race, with the silver medal assured, she ran to the end of the track, waving a U.S. flag as Humphries rode in standing on her sled like a parade float.
In many ways, Meyers Taylor was affected most by Humphries’s decision to join the U.S. team. Humphries’s arrival meant Meyers Taylor was no longer the United States’ obvious lead female rider. But she supported Humphries after Humphries alleged mental and emotional abuse by Canada’s head coach, Todd Hays, who was once the United States’ head coach. And when Humphries, who was living full time in Carlsbad, Calif., with new husband Travis Armbruster, joined the U.S. team in 2019, Meyers Taylor welcomed her.
“We’ve had our differences as teammates,” Meyers Taylor said Monday. “I think it was easier when she was competing for Canada for us to be friends because we’re not competing for resources; we’re not competing for brakemen [in the two-woman sled] and things like that.”
The Canadian officials did not cheer as Humphries celebrated just below them. They did not clap when her name was announced. They looked away as the American anthem was played. If Humphries noticed, she didn’t show it. She has been open about the friendships she has lost because of her competitiveness, the rift opened by her fights. Monday wasn’t the day to pretend that everything was suddenly right between her and Canada.
“I feel like I found my people,” she said of her new country and team.
Half a world away, where it was still Sunday night, Armbruster watched at a party at a friend’s house near San Diego. On one television was the Super Bowl, on another, the Olympic monobob competition. Several of his and Humphries’s California friends lingered in the living room. Their neighbor kids from Carlsbad played on a trampoline in the backyard.
They all nibbled on cupcakes that had been specially frosted to spell out “KaillieBowl.”
Everyone cheered when Humphries won. Most of them had been through the frantic and often seemingly hopeless fight to get U.S. citizenship in time for the Olympics and were thrilled when suddenly it was granted in early December, right before the cutoff for Olympic eligibility. Armbruster, who cheered, too, said he was happy as he watched his wife celebrate. He was the one she cried with and complained to when it seemed the passport would never be granted, the one who helped her study each night for her citizenship test, the one who said this day would come.
But it wasn’t until she was on the screen, with the medal around her neck, singing, that he was struck by what all this meant.
“Holy s---, it worked,” he said by phone as he drove home from the party. “She was there [in China] doing it. Everything that we did and talked about every day, it had worked. She persevered. She won gold.”
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