Kaillie Humphries is used to feeling the pressure by now.
The 2010 Olympic gold medallist heads into this weekend’s IBSF World Cup stop at the Whistler Sliding Centre on a five-race win streak, which stretches back to last year’s visit to Whistler and also includes her women’s bobsleigh world championship title at Lake Placid in late February.
With that in mind, the 27-year-old is expecting to have “a big bull’s eye” on her back when she and partner Chelsea Valois race on Friday night (Nov. 23) as the rest of the world’s top pilots look to stop the streak.
“I’ve had it since the Games, I’ll have it before Russia (in 2014), I had it after worlds this year going back to Lake Placid and I’ve got it as the reigning champ on this track as well,” Humphries said Wednesday (Nov. 21). “The game plan stays the same, but it’s nice to be back on a track where I feel more comfortable.”
Humphries is the undisputed leader of the Canadian women’s team, especially with Olympic silver medallist Helen Upperton parking her sled in retirement this offseason. But even with all her success and experience, Humphries isn’t quite ready to declare herself a veteran just yet.
“I still consider myself up-and-coming,” she said. “In general, people will say it takes eight-to-10 years to build a good pilot and this is year seven for me. I’m just getting into my peak prime of consistency.”
Humphries said the great crew of people supporting her has helped her put the win streak together. Rookie brakeman Valois, who only tried out for the national team this summer, is the third partner Humphries has had over her five consecutive victories.
Humphries said the Saskatchewan product is showing great potential and is learning on the fly with just two World Cup starts under her belt.
“She definitely was kind of thrown into the lion’s den a little bit,” said Humphries. “But she’s seemed to step up, she’s accepted the challenge, she works very hard week-to-week to improve … and she’s doing a great job so far.”
Jenny Ciochetti, Humphries’s brakeman at worlds last season, is now piloting Canada 2 with partner Kate O’Brien and the pair should challenge for a top-10 spot this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Canadian women’s skeleton squad is looking as strong as ever, thanks to the emergence of Sarah Reid and rookie slider Cassie Hawrysh alongside veteran Mellisa Hollingsworth.
When Reid and Hollingsworth finished one-two at Lake Placid to start the season, it wasn’t just Reid’s first World Cup victory. It was her first time in the top five.
“It showed me that I can do it — I can be up there with the girls who are so talented and so quick,” Reid said Tuesday (Nov. 20) of her season-opening win. “Especially on this track — the international field is really strong here — it’s confidence boost and it shows me where I can be and what I can reach for.
Hawrysh had a breakout performance at Park City by placing fourth for the top Canadian result on Friday (Nov. 16), while Hollingsworth was seventh and Reid finished 11th.
“All three of us are in the top eight in the world right now, which is pretty crazy,” said Reid. “We’re doing really good as a team. I think as the years have gone on, Canada as a team has come together more and more. It’s an individual sport, but we approach it as a team. There are no secrets as far as equipment and the lines and that kind of stuff goes.
“I think it only makes each one of us stronger to have all of us sliding so well, and that’s what we want to do, is have all three of us on top of the podium at once.”
Whistler would be a great place to do just that. Hollingsworth is the defending champ of Friday’s women’s race, while Reid has won Intercontinental Cup races here and her two best World Cup results heading into the season came at the Whistler track.
Reid said it would especially be nice for the team to lay down some fast runs on a track that feels more and more like home.
“We’ve had a lot of time on this track and I feel like we’ve really been welcomed by the community here, so it’s an exciting place to race,” she said.
Canadian men aim for podium
Canada’s men’s bobsleigh and skeleton teams have yet to find the podium through two World Cup stops, but Olympic medallists Lyndon Rush and Lascelles Brown came close at Park City in the two-man event.
The duo had the fastest starts in both runs Friday and were sitting in the No. 2 position after the first heat, but rolled out of one of the final turns and slipped back to 20th.
Pilot Chris Spring and Adam Rosenke drove the Canada 2 sled to eighth place for the top Canadian finish last week, while Justin Kripps and Nick Carriere — one of a growing contingent of ex-CFL players manning the back seats of Canadian sleds — were 14th.
“To be eighth in such a close race is a great result for Team Spring and I’m sure we will keep building on this as the season progresses,” said Spring, whose 2011-12 season ended with a January crash in Germany, in a release following Friday’s race. “Being back racing again is amazing.”
Olympic skeleton champ Jon Montgomery will be hoping for a return to form on a Whistler track where he’s never lost in international competition. The Manitoba native has finished outside the top 10 in his first two World Cup starts since taking last winter off, placing 14th at Park City.
Kelowna’s Eric Neilson notched a sixth-place finish in Utah for the team’s best result so far this season, nearly securing the second top-five finish of his career. The reigning Canadian and Olympic champs will be joined by Calgary’s John Fairbairn, who placed 10th last week.
Friday (Nov. 23)
Women’s skeleton — 10 a.m.
Two-man bobsleigh — 3 p.m.
Women’s bobsleigh — 6:30 p.m.
Saturday (Nov. 24)
Four-man bobsleigh — 9 a.m.
Men’s skeleton — 3 p.m.