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This podium we own: Canada takes gold, silver in women’s Olympic bobsled event – Metro US

This podium we own: Canada takes gold, silver in women’s Olympic bobsled event

WHISTLER, B.C. – Four years after the Turin Olympics tore them apart and reordered their relationship, Kaillie Humphries, Helen Upperton and Heather Moyse stood together on the podium Wednesday and hugged.

“Turin was hard, but I’ve grown and I’ve had to look past that. It’s part of my story,” said Humphries moments after she and Moyse made history by winning the gold medal in women’s bobsled at the Vancouver Olympics while Upperton and brakeman Shelley-Ann Brown took silver.

“It’s part of OUR story,” corrected Moyse.

Yes, said Humphries.

“It’s part of us together as a team,” she said. “It’s what builds our relationship. It’s kind of where we started, and we’re here because of it.”

Canada won its first Olympic medals in women’s bobsled, and for Humphries, the pilot of the Canada 1 sled, it was also the happy end to a long and difficult journey.

Four years ago, the 24-year-old Calgarian was Upperton’s brakeman and they were the hottest thing on ice, a lock to go to Turin.

But with just months to go, Humphries tripped on a garden hose at a push competition in Mexico and ripped up her ankle.

She came back and was pushing just as good as she had before. But now Upperton had found a new partner in Moyse.

The Summerside, P.E.I., native had only been in the sport for a few months, a national level rugby player snagged by bobsled officials for her explosive power and leg speed. She was a demon, honing her killer push starts by pushing a car, with her brother and nephew inside, in a potato warehouse, the “Eye of the Tiger” theme blaring on the speakers.

Moyse, 31, and Upperton were sliding strong, and rather than break up a good team, the coaches sent Humphries to Turin with them as the backup.

Upperton and Moyse missed bronze by five-one-hundredths of a second. Four years later Upperton, 30, said losing by what equates to half an eyelash blink still haunts her.

Outwardly Humphries helped where she could at Turin. Inwardly, she seethed. On the flight back from Turin, she told her parents that she was going to driving school. She was done being a brakeman, a pawn to be shifted around at the whims of coaches and drivers.

At driving school she was a dynamo, with an instinctive knack for finding the right line.

By 2007, she was on the World Cup circuit, getting mentored by none other that multiple Olympic medal winning driver Pierre Lueders. He walked the tracks with her, showed her the best lines, the inside scoop on the quirks of the killer German sliding tracks. Her learning curve went vertical.

By 2008 things started turning around for Humphries, and going south for Upperton.

Humphries was now paired with Moyse and Upperton with Edmonton track athlete Jenny Ciochetti.

For Humphries and Moyse, their relationship began with narrowed eyes and a bit of suspicion but blossomed when both realized they could each help the other finish their Olympic dream.

Moyse had been set to go back to rugby, but coming so close at Turin, she couldn’t let go.

“Losing by five-hundredths of a second, that’s why I came back to bobsled,” she said.

Upperton in the early months of the 2008-09 season was the top driver on the World Cup circuit, with Ciochetti.

They seemed destined to be No. 1 overall until a race in January 2009 at Koenigssee in Germany.

In the first run, they rocketed off the start line. But as Upperton jumped in, her feet got tangled and she wrenched forward, violently slamming her rib cage on the cowling until the cartilage on her lower left side gave way. She was in constant pain, needed help getting out of bed. She took freezing injections so painful they brought tears to her eyes. Her season was in ashes.

When the new season started last fall it was clear the pecking order had changed.

Humphries quickly established herself as the top dog. She won bronze in Lake Placid and never finished lower than sixth all year. She and Moyse smashed start records all over Europe and never finished out of the top six in any race. They hit the trifecta in Altenberg, Germany – first place, start record, track record.

The coaches, however, still wanted to move the brakemen around, see who works best with whom. Humphries pulled rank. No more mix n’ match, she said. She would slide with Moyse.

Upperton, meanwhile, spent the season trying to find her mojo. Either her sled, nicknamed Fernando, had technical problems or she drove poorly. When one thing went right, the other went wrong. She tried Brown and Ciochetti on the brakes. Ciochetti, recovering from a back injury, missed the cut.

Upperton never missed the top 10 in any race, but was rarely a podium threat, a shadow of herself from Turin.

“If you’d asked me four months ago, I would have said I was going into the Olympics thinking I was going to win,” said Upperton. “If you asked me two weeks ago I would have said I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

When the women’s Olympic bobsled race began Tuesday, Humphries and Moyse were all business. They didn’t even look at the other teams’ times. Didn’t care.

In the first heat, they carved through the 16-turn course in 53.19 seconds, at a speed of 146.9 km/h to break the previous record of 53.53 seconds. In the next heat, they destroyed their own record by crossing the finish line 18-hundredths of a second faster. In the third they shattered the record again, with a time of 52.85

They smashed start records. Their first start was a record 5.12 seconds, beating the existing 5.17 standard. They broke it in the second heat with a 5.11, which they matched in the third.

In the fourth run, they played it safe to stay on track and win it all.

Upperton and Brown took a much more challenging route to the podium.

They had a great push time in the first heat, but couldn’t keep the speed down the course, finishing fifth. They skidded too much, Upperton said later.

But in the heats that followed, Brown, the former track star from Pickering, Ont., kept Upperton in the top-three in push times, and Upperton, nicknamed the “H-Bomb”, did the rest, steering a line true as an arrow down the course.

Slowly they worked their way through the field. After the second run, they were fourth, nipping on the heels of German Cathleen Martini.

After the third they were in third.

In the last heat, Martini and brakeman Romy Logsch, determined to make up time, went roaring through a series of high speed lefts and rights in the bottom part of the course, nicknamed the Gold Rush Trail.

But in the sweeping double apex curve on Turn 11, they began to fish tail, lost control in the hard right curve through 12, hit the wall hard in 13 and went over in a spectacular crash that saw a piece of the sled fly off and Logsch go tumbling out the back of the sled, skidding down the ice track on her back, her limbs out, her body a spinning letter X.

Upperton was next up. A safe ride and the bronze medal was theirs.

“I didn’t want to play it safe,” she said. “I really wanted to put it all out there and not regret anything.”

After they crossed the finish line to stand on top of the podium, Humphries and Moyse came through the finish line, playing it safe, to take it from them.

“If felt great coming up the outrun and having coaches put up the No. 1 finger and cheering. It felt a bit of relief, said Humphries. “We did it.”

Their final time was three minutes 32.28 seconds. Upperton was 85-hundredths of a second behind. Erin Pac of the United States was third, 1.12 seconds off the pace.

Moyse, her helmet in her hand, pumped her fist in the air and hugged Humphries at the finish line before someone handed them a Canadian flag, which they both then held up together as the cheers from the Canadian fans, faces painted, waving flags, clanging bells and blowing horns, reached a crescendo and reverberated down the misty slopes of Blackcomb Mountain.

On the finish dock Upperton and Moyse hugged – a four year journey completed together, but with different partners.

“We did it. We did it. One, two,” Moyse recalls saying to Upperton. “That was the ideal. That was the best.”

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