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Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse aren't used to racing from behind. The reigning Olympic gold medalists in women's bobsleigh prefer to lead from the start, to be in control of their destinies.
But at the end of their final run here in the mountains above Sochi, Humphries and Moyse found themselves in an unfamiliar second place, watching on a monitor as the first-place U.S. team of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams came hurtling down the track.
The Canadians hugged tightly as the Americans pushed off to a slightly faster start than they had managed, the possibility they'd fall just short of gold plain in their faces. Then smiles crept in and they hopefully clasped hands as the American sled bumped off one corner than another, costing precious fractions of seconds.
Finally – when it was clear they had won another gold by a tenth of a second – they screamed, hugged and jumped around the finish like, well, they were repeat Olympic champions.
"When you have to rely on somebody else, or wait and see, it makes it hard, because it's out of your control. It wasn't easy, but it also makes it that much more fun when your hard work and effort all pays off," Humphries said of the emotions she went through watching the U.S. sled come down the track on the fourth and final run. "I never wish bad on people but I was thinking 'just make a few mistakes, please'."
The gold medal was Canada's fifth of these Olympics, and ended an eight-day drought between top-of-the-podium finishes.
Humphries and Moyse, driving the sled known as Canada-1, trailed the U.S. team after Tuesday's first two runs by an intimidating 0.23 seconds. However, they never lost confidence. "Tomorrow we will be back to claim what's ours! Hunt or Be Hunted!" Humphries posted on her Twitter feed, along with a picture of she and Moyse celebrating on the podium in Whistler four years before.
And hunt they did. Canada-1 cut the U.S. lead in half with a blistering third run, setting the stage for the dramatic finale.
Humphries, who makes a habit of not looking at the scoreboard between runs, got into the sled for the last run with a single question for Moyse. Could it be done? "I just looked at her and said 'it's possible' – and that's all Kaillie needed to know. That the gap wasn't closed, but it was possible," Moyse said.
Without mentioning the error-filled final run by Meyers and Williams, Humphries and Moyse attributed their win to not making mistakes. "I don't know if [the win was] so much a comeback as it just was consistency. Heather and I had four extremely consistent pushes and I drove four very consistent runs. And that's the key to an Olympics or a World Championship title. When it's two days and its four runs, there's a lot that can happen."
The repeat gold medal completes a winding road back to the podium for the tandem, one that saw Moyse take time off to pursue other sporting interests – she's a track cyclist and a member of Canada's national rugby team – that was extended by a 2012 hip surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The 35-year-old only returned to Calgary's Ice House bobsleigh training track in September, and had to requalify to make the national team. Then she had to earn her old job back as Humphries' brakeman, a spot ably occupied in her absence by Chelsea Valois, who finished in 13th place Wednesday along with Canada-2 pilot Jennifer Ciochetti.
Moyse admits she "had no idea" after her surgery whether she could make it back to the Olympics, let alone win another gold medal. "We're talking about a sport that comes down to hundredths of a second… You have to believe that it's possible. A lot can happen at the Olympic Games, a lot can happen en route."
Humphries – who kept Canada-1 at the top of the World Cup charts even in Moyse's absence – is now unquestionably the sport's dominant driver. But she said it was special to repeat as Olympic champions with Moyse. "When she showed up in September I was extremely ecstatic, beyond words... It was a dream come true to have her back, and it wouldn't have been possible without her here."
The Canadians' comeback win barely dimmed an amazing introduction to the sport for silver medalist Williams, who sat in a bobsleigh for the first time only in July, and narrowly missed becoming the first female athlete to win a gold medal in each of the Summer and Winter Olympics. The sprinter won gold as part of the U.S. 4x100 relay team at the London 2012 Olympics.
Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans, also of the U.S., took the bronze here.
After their repeat win, Humphries and Moyse faced the obvious question: would they try for the three-peat in 2018?
Humphries giggled at the idea. "We'll see," she said, before adding that she intended to give it a try. "As of right now, I will say yes, I plan on continuing… I've new goals, new dreams, new things that I'd set out at the start of this year that I'm really hoping pan out. If those all work, then yeah, you'll see me around for the next four years."
Humphries used the first-person singular in her answer. Moyse remained smiling, silent and noncommittal – just soaking up the moment.
"We're going to go have a party first," Moyse said.
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