I know I still have more in me: Kaillie Humphries hungry for Olympic gold with Team USA | CBC Sports

Six hundred and fifty-four days.

That's how long it had been since Kaillie Humphries last went down a bobsled track in a competitive race. This past weekend, the former Canadian bobsledder made her debut for the United States in Lake Placid, N.Y.

At the previous international race Humphries competed in she was draped in Canadian colours at the Olympics. She stood at the bottom of the Pyeongchang track celebrating a bronze-medal performance in February 2018, with one arm wrapped around teammate Phylicia George and the other wrapped around American Lauren Gibbs.

They had all just completed their Olympic runs that chilly February day in South Korea. No one could have ever predicted it would be Humphries' last race for Canada — and that her next race of international significance would be for the Americans, alongside Gibbs.

Canada's Kaillie Humphries, centre, United States driver Elana Meyers Taylor, right, and brakeman Lauren Gibbs, left, watch the last sled compete during the women's bobsled at the Olympic sliding centre during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games in South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

So when it came time to finally race down the track again at the World Cup opener in Lake Placid, there was some fear and doubt creeping in for Humphries. Did she still have it?

"I was pretty nervous going into this race. A lot of eyes and a lot of expectations, mostly put on myself," Humphries said.

If there were nerves and rust, Humphries didn't show it. On the track where she first learned to drive a sled down the side of a mountain — and after nearly two years away from competition — Humphries piloted the Americans to a gold medal with Gibbs.

WATCH | Humphries wins World Cup gold in her American debut:

2-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries wins women's bobsleigh event for United States in her 1st race since switching competitive allegiances from Canada. 3:14

Stars and stripes

She's in the stars and stripes now. But the medal colour is still very familiar.

"It's a relief. It's exciting. It's been emotional," Humphries said after her victory. "My teammates were very supportive this week."

For 15 years, the Calgary native was a force for the Canadians, winning 48 World Cup medals and back-to-back Olympic gold medals alongside Heather Moyse. She's a fierce competitor who expects perfection from herself every time she hits the ice.

But now this is all new again. A change Humphries says she so badly needed because she felt unsafe in the Canadian program. 

"I'm a rookie now. I'm the oldest rookie I think," Humphries said, laughing. "We joke about it. We have fun. My team treats me as an individual."

Leaving Team Canada

It's been a turbulent past two years for Humphries as she tried to navigate her future on the Canadian team — and then find her way off of it.

That topsy-turvy journey includes having filed a harassment complaint with Bobsleigh Canada more than a year ago against her former coach and the organization's management. Humphries said the national sport organization was in violation of its own harassment and discrimination policies. 

Bobsleigh Canada handed the complaint to an independent third-party company that specializes in investigating such claims. Hill Advisory Services concluded that "in the investigator's opinion there has been no breach to relevant policy."

Humphries then asked to be released from the team to compete for the U.S. That led to a messy separation between Bobsleigh Canada and Humphries. Humphries sued the sport organization for $45 million for blocking her release from the team and breaching their contract relating to athlete and coach code of conduct.

Finally, at the end of September, Bobsleigh Canada's board of directors sent a letter saying they were granting Humphries' release to be able to compete for the United States.

Since then, Humphries has been familiarizing herself with the American team and trying to look forward in her career.

"It's been hard for me personally," Humphries said. "I try not to take too much of what a lot of people have to say to heart. I did what was best for me as a person and a competitor. I just hope a lot of people know and understand that."

New chapter

Brakeman Lauren Gibbs and pilot Kaillie Humphries of the United States celebrate their debut winning the women's World Cup bobsled opener in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (Hans Pennink/The Associated Press)

Humphries says she's grateful for the American program for allowing her the space to compete for a spot on the team, while appreciating what she's been through over the past two years.

"Sport is supposed to be fun. And it's supposed to be a safe place where we can all learn skills. Where we can develop and grow," she said.

"I felt that my environment was not that and was compromised. I took a stand. I was accepted by a federation that believed in me and wanted to provide different opportunities, in an environment I felt safe in."

And while Humphries understands she's now a part of the Canada-U.S. rivalry, she holds no ill-will for a country and its fans who cheered for her through so many victories while wearing the maple leaf.

"I just want to say thank you to every Canadian for supporting me and who has supported me. I don't forget where I come from. I never will," Humphries said. "I've got a love in my heart for both countries and nothing will change that."

Another push for Olympic gold

Humphries says she has a new energy after the switch to the American team and points to her teammates for helping her with the transition.

"What's really helped is my teammates. Being part of a team that respects and appreciates me for what I am as a person and as an athlete."

Humphries, now in her 16th year of competitive bobsled, wants to continue to find ways to push herself on and off the track.

"This is Kaillie Humphries in this chapter of her life. This is Kaillie competing for herself, her new team and a new country. Not one that neglects or will ever forget the past."

She's not forgetting the past, but Humphries is certainly only focusing on the future now.

"I want to win an Olympic gold medal. And so that's what I will focus on. I'll focus on being the best athlete I can be," she said. "I know I still have more in me."