WHISTLER, B.C. — Before her Olympic gold medals, before her world championship titles, before being named Canadian athlete of the year, Kaillie Humphries was just another bobsledder thinking big and honing her craft at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
"This was where I set my dreams and goals," said Humphries. "This place has, and will always have, a special place in my heart."
The Calgary native became a household name after winning women's gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and she will race down the same Whistler track that helped make her famous this weekend as the World Cup circuit returns to this picturesque resort town for the first time in four years.
"It taught me to be the driver I am. It's challenging and it's very fast," Humphries said of the 16-corner, 1,450-metre track. "I've crashed here numerous times. It will bite you, but at the same time a smooth run feels absolutely amazing."
Humphries won back-to-back world championships in 2012 and 2013, and successfully defended her Olympic gold at the Sochi Games on the way to capturing the Lou Marsh award as Canada's top athlete in 2014.
The 30-year-old owns 35 career World Cup medals, including 16 gold, but was coming off a frustrating campaign heading into this season after failing to win a single race in 2014-15.
Humphries still managed to finish second in the overall standings thanks to four podium finishes, and along with brakeman Melissa Lotholz of Barrhead, Alta., is firing on all cylinders this season with three golds, a silver and a bronze through five events.
"The results speak for themselves in regards to the hard work its taken," said Humphries, who has two World Cup wins at Whistler. "This isn't just a one-year thing where all of a sudden I'm good or I'm crap. This is a long time coming in the process, and it's going to keep going."
Humphries is also leading the charge to get women's four-man bobsled on the World Cup circuit and eventually into the Olympics. Women currently only compete in two-person sleds, but Humphries drove an all-female team in the men's four-man in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Jan. 9 and twice last week in Park City, Utah — finishing last in all three events.
"It's nearly impossible for us to compete against the men," said Humphries. "I've been lobbying a lot."
She has piloted four-man sleds with male teammates, but said it's important women get a second race of their own.
"It's challenging because some of our sport is an old boys club," Humphries added. "They've always believed that women can't and shouldn't do four-man — they're not good enough pilots, they're not tough enough, they're not strong enough to be able to do it.
"We're trying to break down those stereotypes and show people first-hand that it's possible."
There's no four-man event this week in Whistler, but women's skeleton goes Friday along with the men's two-man bobsled, while men's skeleton, women's bobsled and a second men's two-man bobsled race are set for Saturday.
Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C., and brakeman Alex Kopacz of London, Ont., will get a couple of cracks at their first medal of the season in two-man bobsled after two fourth-place finishes.
"We're knocking on the door," said the 29-year-old Kripps. "I'm getting into my years as a driver where I want to medal all the time. I'm a little bit more consistent."
Meanwhile in women's skeleton, it will be also a homecoming of sorts for North Vancouver, B.C., native Jane Channell, who won the first silver of her World Cup career last weekend.
A university student during the 2010 Olympics, Channell watched in awe as Canada's Jon Montgomery won gold in skeleton on home soil. The former sprinter moved to Whistler soon after to take up the sport where competitors slide head first in hopes of one day representing her country.
"It's kind of dream versus reality," the 27-year-old Channell said of racing in a World Cup on her home track. "Being up here, I have flashbacks to 2010. It's really exciting."
Notes: Also set to compete are Calgary's Chris Spring in two-man bobsled, Calgary's Elisabeth Vathje in women's skeleton, as well as Dave Greszczyszyn of Brampton, Ont., and Calgary's Barrett Martineau in men's skeleton. ... Whistler will host the 2019 bobsled and skeleton world championship.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press