Two-time Olympic bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries knew the name-calling would erupt after her bitter public split from the Canadian national team.
Traitor. Hypocrite. Backstabber. Fake patriot. That was the milder stuff.
Coarser characterizations floating across the internet framed her as a greedy, demanding whiner who should return all the taxpayer dollars that supported her 15-year career. Insults wormed into her social media — deposited amid genuine fare-thee-well messages — after Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton reluctantly released Humphries on Sept. 28 into the arms of its American rivals.
“It exploded and right away, the story took a turn I wasn’t expecting,” the 34-year-old said in an interview from her San Diego home. “It very much became emotional, I think, for a lot of people.”
On Saturday, she’ll be called another name. One she treasures:
Kaillie Humphries, driver, Team USA.
So long, red maple leaf. Hello stars and stripes.
Humphries is competing in the World Cup season opener in Lake Placid, N.Y., as an official member of the American bobsled squad.
“I am extremely happy,” she says of her new life.
These are better times for Humphries, who — after filing a harassment complaint about Canada’s head coach Todd Hays, launching a $45 million lawsuit against Bobsleigh Canada then fighting for her release to the U.S. program — was unlikely to be part of Canada’s national team plans this season. Her preferred option, piloting an American sled, became reality when she was named to Team USA on Nov. 22.
Humphries said she’s in a “positive, safe” sports environment and plans to compete in the 2022 Olympic Games for the U.S. She is on a path to American citizenship after marrying former U.S. bobsledder Travis Armbruster in September.
Still, she remains troubled that her Canadian departure, and the circumstances surrounding it — including a depression diagnosis made just months after winning bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games — were not fully understood by a nation that long feted her as a sports hero.
“Automatically you’re called a traitor and backstabber and ‘how dare you leave,’ and everything became about Canada versus the U.S.,” she said.
“This is not the point of the story. You guys (her critics) don’t know the half of it (so) I just stopped talking,” she continued, because “people aren’t going to hear a single thing of what I’m saying.”
Now, she’s talking.
About contacting the most powerful organizations in Canadian sport — at the Canadian Olympic Committee, Own The Podium, Sport Canada — to break free of Bobsleigh Canada.
How her good friend, Elana Meyers Taylor — the No. 1 driver for the U.S. team — helped to open the American bobsleigh door for her.
Why Humphries chose the “absurd” amount of $45 million in damages to sue her sport organization.
“A huge portion of the story got lost from day one,” she said of her Bobsleigh Canada feuding, which became very public throughout August and September. “There’s a whole backstory to this whole thing.”
Including a final battle with Bobsleigh Canada.
The sport’s national governing body hired an independent firm to investigate Humphries’s August 2018 harassment complaint about Hays (and two other officials). This year, investigators concluded in a Sept. 12 report that “the evidence has not substantiated” Humphries’s allegations and that she’d “failed to meet her burden of proof” in other claims.
Humphries has since appealed to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, the nation’s highest sport court, claiming a proper investigation into her complaint was not conducted.
How did it get so ugly?
Why did Kaillie Humphries, a Canadian celebrity, a World Cup superstar, the sport’s only female back-to-back Olympic champion (with brakewoman Heather Moyse), end up leaving the country that adored her?
Why did Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton fight to keep an unhappy athlete?
The drama began Aug. 22, 2018, when Humphries filed a formal harassment complaint to Bobsleigh Canada against head coach Todd Hays, citing mental and verbal abuse allegations that arose during the 2017-2018 season. Humphries also named high-performance director Chris Le Bihan and president Sarah Storey in the complaint.
By that point, Humphries said she’d been diagnosed with depression and required medication.
(Humphries said she began experiencing regular migraines, physical pain, rashes, hives and poor sleep. She said she paid for an MRI in Kingston, Ont., to rule out concussion issues, and had more testing — including eye examinations — in Calgary, where eventually her depression was identified.)
She butted heads with Bobsleigh Canada over her therapeutic needs. She was offered team medical staff support but Humphries wanted to protect her privacy: “I don’t feel safe talking to the team sports psychologist,” she recalled telling officials. She eventually found her own therapist.
From there, a series of events led to a showdown in late summer 2019, in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta:
- In 2018, Humphries was excused from two national team training camps because Hays would be there. In early October, she announced via Twitter she was taking a year off from competition. She then did not receive monthly Athlete Assistance Payments (funding often called “carding” and given to eligible amateur athletes), which she believes she was owed.
Cody Sorensen is a former bobsledder who is now an elected Bobsleigh Canada director as the athlete representative. In a Sept. 15, 2019, affidavit he provided as part of Bobsleigh Canada’s attempt to block Humphries’s court injunction to force her release, Sorensen stated that “As Ms. Humphries chose to take the 2018/2019 year away from the sport, she was ineligible to receive these (carding) payments — they were not withdrawn.”
- In January 2019, Humphries spoke publicly about her harassment allegations.
- In May, she inquired about returning to the national team and Bobsleigh Canada was receptive. Humphries was asked by sport officials for her plans to return to competition. She provided a detailed list of requirements, including coaching services, therapy and equipment considerations.
Regarding this list, Sorensen stated in his affidavit that Bobsleigh Canada “does not negotiate with individual athletes as to the conditions of their participation on the national team. Instead, resource distribution is a matter of policy.” He also called her list “demands.”
- Humphries said she wasn’t invited to two summer training camps in 2019 and only found out about them on social media. She said she then began to “panic” — her world ranking and a second year of carding support were in jeopardy if she was not in the national team program.
“You’re purposely not inviting me, you’re not including me (and) now I’m feeling unwanted,” Humphries said, recalling her feelings about the sport’s officials.
“I feel like, looking back, (Bobsleigh Canada) spent all summer trying to build a case against me.”
- On Aug. 3, Humphries emailed Bobsleigh Canada, requesting her release by Sept. 1 to compete with the U.S. program. She copied outside parties, including the Canadian Olympic Committee, Own The Podium and the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. (Formal releases to change nations are required by bobsleigh’s international federation.)
- On Aug. 22, her lawyer received an email from Bobsleigh Canada. The sport organization wrote it would defer a decision on her release until the harassment investigation concluded.
- On Sept. 6, the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation agreed to accept Humphries to the American program, pending her release.
- On Sept. 12, Humphries served Bobsleigh Canada with a $45 million civil suit.
“I realize how ridiculous $45 million is,” Humphries said, “and everybody seemed to think that I, you know, feel it was warrranted that I get $45 million, I understand that.
“I had to (ask) an absurd amount and create an obscene scenario to even be heard or to get any type of answer from Bobsleigh Canada … this forced them.”
- On Sept. 17, a judge denied Humphries’s injunction to force Bobsleigh Canada to release her to the U.S. program. The judge also ruled the courts do not have jurisdiction over sports disputes when national and international sports governing bodies have procedures and protocols in place. Bobsleigh Canada said it wants Humphries to remain.
In his affidavit, Sorensen described the harm potential for a “small Olympic sport” to have its top athletes poached if releases were easily granted.
Get more sports in your inbox
Get the Star’s Sports Headlines email newsletter for a daily round-up of the latest big news.
“Bobsleigh is unique in that sometimes exceptional push athletes can join the National Bobsleigh Program as rookies and compete at the highest levels of the sport within a matter of months,” Sorensen wrote.
“If it were the case that athletes could switch nations without restriction, then it would be possible for those nations with the necessary means to poach athletes and skew the playing field.”
Less than two weeks after the injunction was denied, the standoff ended.
Bobsleigh Canada granted Humphries’s release — two days before a Sept. 30 deadline to do so, as per international bobsleigh rules — and the lawsuit was dropped.
Sarah Storey, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton president, said in an email that the matter was “an unfortunate situation.”
“Anytime your sport is dragged into the public’s eye in this manner, there are simply no winners,” Storey said.
“When an issue or complaint is made involving (harassment) allegations of this nature, there are mechanisms and procedures that must be followed to ensure it is dealt with properly and to protect the rights of all involved.
“It has always been and continues to be important that all of our athletes, staff and volunteers have confidence that we will abide by our policies and treat any concerns with respect, professionalism and confidentiality,” Storey continued.
Before Kaillie Humphries filed her formal release request, she first phoned a good friend — and competitor.
Elana Meyers Taylor was the No. 1 driver with the U.S. team. The veteran edged out Humphries (and teammate Phylicia George) for silver in Pyeongchang.
“I wanted to make sure she was OK with the decision, with the thought process, if it was something she would understand,” said Humphries.
“She and I are very good friends and I wanted to keep that.”
Meyers Taylor not only understood, she was encouraging. She said she and Humphries had discussed potentially joining the U.S. program over the previous 12 months.
“I didn’t want her to have to be in the situation where she didn’t feel safe and she didn’t feel comfortable competing, and the U.S. was a viable option, so it seemed like a thing to do,” said Meyers Taylor, who is expecting her first child in March and is on maternity leave this World Cup season.
Meyers Taylor had also been coached by Todd Hays, who moved to the Canadian program after working with the American national team.
“(Hays) was one of my first driving coaches and for three years, working with him and being alongside him, I can understand some of the things that (Humphries) went through,” Meyers Taylor said.
“He’s a very tough coach and his coaching style doesn’t work for everybody … I guess they weren’t getting along, and obviously it was more than that,” the 35-year-old continued.
“But every athlete should have the right to compete in a space where they’re safe and if Kaillie doesn’t feel safe competing with him as the head coach, then she needs to find another option.”
Darrin Steele, who was the CEO of the American bobsled program, praised Hays in a September 2018 letter to Sarah Storey, the Bobsleigh Canada president.
“Todd Hays is one of the best coaches in the world and he is not only eligible for rehire to the U.S. program, it is expected that he return to the U.S. program at some point in the future.”
Storey said the sport body’s job is “to develop world-leading athletes in a safe and positive environment, while ultimately delivering medal-winners for Canada.”
“Kaillie Humphries is an exceptional, talented and accomplished Canadian athlete who was an integral member of Team Canada,” Storey said.
“Kaillie was always welcome in our program with the understanding that all of our athletes and coaches must respect and follow the policies and procedures we have in place to be a part of our national team program.”
Storey said after Humphries asked to be released, the board of directors conducted a thorough review of the situation and “decided to grant her that wish.”
“It is now time to move on,” Storey said.
Humphries said moving to the United States was “always going to be in my cards.”
She fell in love and married an American. They’ve lived in San Diego for four years. She’s spent off-seasons training in Arizona. Her comfort residing south of the border is rooted in her childhood visits to her American grandfather’s home in Point Roberts, Wash.
Still, she said the decision to leave Canada was “harder than I care to admit.”
“I think by the time I made my the choice, I was so hardened to the fact that I had already been let down by the people who were supposed to keep me safe and protect me (and) respect and value me,” she said.
Humphries said switching national teams “doesn’t mean I stopped loving Canada.”
“I’m Canadian. I’ll always be Canadian,” she said.
“I’m not about to give up my passport and just forget that my whole life existed,” she said. “This is a decision that was forced upon me.”