When bobsledder Kaillie Humphries decided to leave a toxic team environment, it put her future as an Olympian in jeopardy. Is switching teams against the ideals of sportsmanship that the Olympics stand for? Or could it actually make those ideals even stronger?"
When bobsledder Kaillie Humphries decided to leave a toxic team environment, it put her future as an Olympian in jeopardy. When is it acceptable for an athlete to leave one nation to compete for another? And is switching teams against the ideals of sportsmanship that the Olympics stand for? Or could it actually make those ideals even stronger? Hosted by Molly Bloom. Produced by FilmNation Entertainment in association with Gilded Audio.
Molly: Kaillie Humphries is very clear about what she loves the most about bobsledding.
Kaillie: The most thrilling moment for me is crossing the finish line in the final run of the race. Looking at the clock and seeing a little number one, knowing you won the race and like you stayed in your number one position.
Molly: She loves to win.
Kaillie: And I like winning by a lot. Like some people are like, it's so thrilling when you know, the races are tight ... I'm like, no,...I like when I'm like two seconds ahead and there is not a question and I nailed everything perfectly and I just smoke everybody. That's what I like.
Molly: ‘Smoking everybody’ is not uncommon for Kaillie Humphries. Truth be told, few people have ever meant to a sport what Kaillie Humphries means to women’s bobsledding.
She’s won two gold medals at the Olympics and one bronze. She’s won five World Championships. In 2014, she won the Lou Marsh Award, given
annually to Canada’s top athlete. One of Kaillie’s most recent golds was for the 2021 monobob World Championship. It was the first time the event – where women sled as individuals instead of teams of two – was part of the competition. Per usual, Kaillie dominated.
CLIP: She’s pulling away! This is the first ever women’s monobob world champion. Kaillie Humphries, a four-time world champion, is now a five-time world champion!
Kaillie always seemed to be pulling away…. beating other competitors by a landslide. But... when she won that particular gold, she was no longer competing for her home country, Canada. She was there representing Team USA.
Kaillie had competed for Canada for her entire career. But in 2017, the team hired a new coach, and, according to Kaillie, everything changed. She told us that bullying, psychological abuse, and physical intimidation became the norm
on her team.
Kaillie had to get out.
Kaillie: I started to lose myself. And it's a little bit humiliating because I, I pride myself in being very strong. I pride myself in being a very strong female athlete that has achieved a lot. Don't get me wrong. I, I fought as hard as I could in regards to standing up for myself, but there was points when I would go home and just cry.
Kaillie told us that she endured these circumstances for a year. But eventually, she had to make a change. She told her bosses that it was either her or her abusive coach. He kept his job. And the greatest female bobsledder in Canadian history packed up and left Team Canada.
When I sat down with Kaillie, the Olympics were just three months away -- and yet, she had no idea if she'd be able to compete as a member of Team USA. That's because when it comes to the Olympics, switching teams can get complicated. Ideas of nationality,
citizenship, and fairness in competition get jumbled together. And for people in situations like Kaillie’s, there’s no clear path. And that put her ability to compete in Beijing in serious jeopardy.
Kaillie: I don't have my passport yet on the US side, I'm working on it as one of the qualifications to compete at the games. Um, I'm in process, my application has been submitted it's processing and has been for a long time. It's just, I'm up against the clock.
Kaillie never doubted that leaving Canada was the right choice. But would that choice mean that Kaillie, one of the greatest bobsledders of all time, would never compete in the Olympics again?
I’m Molly Bloom, and this is TORCHED, a show about the heat of competition: and what the greatest athletes would lose… to win.
This season is about controversies and scandals on the biggest world stage: the Olympics.
And this episode is about a world-class athlete whose decision to leave a toxic team environment put her future as an Olympian in jeopardy.
How does it feel to change nationalities, when the country you’re leaving behind considers you an icon? When is it acceptable for an athlete to leave one nation to compete for another? And is switching teams against the ideals of sportsmanship that the Olympics stand for? Or does it make those ideals stronger?
Kaillie wasn’t focused on bobsled when she was a kid. Born in Calgary to two athletes — her mom played soccer in the Pan-American Games, and her dad was a rugby player – Kaillie played just about every sport under the sun, from track to softball to badminton. Sport was in her blood, and in the air she breathed. She especially loved to ski.
Kaillie: Growing up in the mountains, the Rocky mountains were right there. I went to the lake Louise Downhill every year
from when I was a kid till when I can remember. And that's what I wanted to go to the Olympics and do.
When she was seven years old, Kaillie met Mark Tewksbury, a swimmer and another Calgary native, who had won a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics. Not long after she met him, Kaillie watched him in the finals of the men’s 100 meter backstroke at the ‘92 Olympics in Barcelona.
[CLIP: 1992 OLYMPICS]
Announcer: It’s between Rouse and Tewksbury. Here comes Mark Tewksbury to the final five meters. And Tewksbury is gonna go to the wall. And on the wall. There! He’s done it! Olympic record! The dream lives!
Seven-year old Kaillie was impressed.
Kaillie: You meet somebody and then you watch them on TV. And I got to watch him win a gold medal on TV. And just the feeling of like, I could tell what he was feeling, what his emotions were, how excited he was, how the country rallied behind him. Um, just having friends and family in the room, their reactions to him,
winning a medal, gave me a special feeling. And I thought, this is what I want. This is what I want to achieve too.
Kaillie wasn’t the most popular kid. She had a loving, supportive family, but from an early age, she felt different from the kids around her. But she always felt good when she was competing.
Kaillie: I just kinda went to the beat of my own drum, but sports was always something for me that I felt most comfortable in. It's where I felt like I could really express myself as an athlete, as a female. I felt the most comfortable. It allowed me to, you know, play into my intensity and my focus and a bit of that masculine energy.
Kaillie got seriously into ski racing. She was good, but she remained an outsider.
Kaillie: I mean the amount of chairlifts I rode by myself where you'd be standing in line with everybody and then no one would move forward except for you. And, you know, Very purposeful in regards to the load up a chairlift with five people, but let you go by yourself. Um, I would
have jello shoved in my sleeping bag as a kid. You know, you go to go to sleep at night and surprise there's opened your jello. And then that led to hours worth of trying to clean and trying to have conversations with the parents or the adults that are there as to like, why is this happening to me? And it's, um, it leads to. I mean just questions as to am I different? Why am I different? Why don't they like me?
I would like to think bullying doesn't happen, whether it's in sports or in school or just in life in general. But unfortunately it does. And I definitely was a victim of that growing up.
Kaillie learned at a young age that there were in-groups and out-groups in life. She realized that there was a price to pay for defying people’s expectations, especially as a girl whose athletic prowess set her apart.
She excelled in ski racing, but around the time she was 16, Kaillie had multiple
serious accidents on the slopes, and broke both her legs.
As someone who’s also suffered a traumatic ski injury, I can tell you that coming back from something like that is unbelievably hard. It can lead you to question just about everything: Am I not good enough? Am I sure I want to do this? And what if the next accident is even worse?
Kaillie got back on the slopes and back to racing, an impressive feat. But once she did, she found it impossible to ski the way she did before her injuries.
Kaillie: I'd be on, on the track on the course racing. And I would just check little checks here and there just to slow myself down and I couldn't help it. And I could never override that fear and that feeling in order to do what was necessary to be the fastest.
Kaillie wasn’t winning races. Races she knew she could’ve won before the accidents.
But she still had this drive. She wanted to go to the Olympics. To win at the Olympics. So for a teenage Kaillie
Humphries, rather than giving up the dream she’d already broken both her legs chasing, it was a matter of finding something else that she could be really, really good at. She didn’t have to look far.
Kaillie: In Calgary itself, we have the bobsled track from the 88 Olympic. The
“Cool Runnings” track. And so I had trained in the gym with other bobsledders around and I'd seen them and I thought, well, they are very strong. I've got big, strong legs. Maybe I could be good at it. And I just, I literally went to Google and went online and looked up. Is there like a camp? How do you try out to be a bobsledder? And it pulled up the whole list of here's some tryouts here, some dates. And my dad drove me down and I just tried out.
You’re probably familiar with bobsledding, even if only from Cool Runnings, the movie Kaillie mentioned about the Jamaican bobsled team. Early bobsleds were basically just sleds, but today they look like miniature rocket ships. They’re sleek and aerodynamic, made from fiberglass and steel. Teams compete one at a
time, rocketing along a track in a sled built for one, two, or four people.
Kaillie: the feeling is very unique. I can't really describe it. It's not like a roller coaster. Don't think roller coaster. It is. I got to go in a fighter jet once. And the G-force I felt there was the closest thing I felt in regards to bobsled.
Everyone’s responsible for pushing the bobsled at first, getting off to the fastest possible start. Then, they all pile into the sled. In four-man bobsledding, the two people in the middle are basically along for the ride once they’ve helped with the start.
At the back is the brakeman, who stops the sled at the end of the race. The brakeman and the pushers spend most of the race with their heads tucked and pressed against their teammate’s back.
Kaillie started out as a brakeman, but felt called to be a pilot. I don’t blame her—the pilot is the only one on the team who actually gets to see the race. The pilot steers the sled – and once everybody’s jumped in, their fate
is in the pilot’s hands.
Kaillie: So a typical track is about a mile and a half long. We go anywhere from 80 to 80 to a hundred miles an hour. Every track around the world is very different. So no two tracks are the same, Some have bigger corners that are three stories, tall, some are small little corners that just kind of like whip on and off really fast. the amount of corners, the G-force that you pull on each of those corners. As a bobsled pilot, I have to visualize and be prepared for every single track around the world, in every single turn. And sometimes I have a point that's two inches long that I have to hit going a hundred miles an hour. At the Olympics, you have four runs to hit your marks. You see the track for maybe 44 runs, and then you got to compete on it and. The best person at the Olympics is the one that sorted it out the best and is the most consistent.
A pilot has to steer their sled with an almost
unfathomable degree of precision. Races are won or lost by hundredths of seconds, by fractions of inches.
Kaillie was very fast, very strong, and a very good pilot. And unlike ski racing, she couldn’t get in her own way, and slow herself down.
Kaillie: So once you're in that sled, you're going and you're either going to crash or you're going to figure it out. And I think this is right. I can't check myself. There's no way to slow yourself down. You just have to go and sort it out on the way down.
After only three years in the sport, Kaillie had worked her way onto Team Canada, as an alternate for the 2006 Winter Olympics.
It was during this time that Kaillie, who was born Kaillie Simundson, met and married Dan Humphries, a British bobsledder who did compete at the 2006 Games.
Article 41 of the Olympic Charter states that an athlete can compete for any country of which they are a citizen. When she married a
Brit, Kaillie gained the option of becoming a British citizen, which would have made her eligible for Team Great Britain. Foreign-born athletes compete for Britain all the time—legendary British runner Mo Farah, for example, was born in Somalia.
As Kaillie waited anxiously for her U.S. citizenship, without which she wouldn't be able to compete in Beijing, it was tempting to wonder what would have happened if she had left Team Canada all those years ago and found a new home. But at the time, she was happy on her team. And her Olympic dream was just getting started.
Four years after being named an alternate, Kaillie’s Olympic moment finally came.
At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, on her native soil, Kaillie piloted a two-woman team consisting of herself and brakeman Heather Moyse to a first-place finish, and Olympic gold.
Now she knew what Mark Tewksbury had been feeling all those years ago, when she watched him at the Barcelona Games.
Kaillie: It is, it's very overwhelming. So take every emotion and feeling, put it all into one and you kind of just stand there for a minute. It definitely you're so happy. You're so excited. You. I cannot believe at the same point that this has happened. You're relieved. I think that's one emotion. People don't assume that occurs, that it all worked like holy crap. It just, yep. That happened.
It kept happening. Kaillie won the 2012 World Championship at Lake Placid, the first time a Canadian women’s bobsled team had ever done so. On the 2012-2013 World Cup circuit, she and brakeman Chelsea Valois finished on the podium in all nine races, winning their first five in a row. She stretched her streak to 15 straight podiums the following season, winning her second-straight world cup title.
In 2014, Kaillie was with Team Canada for
the Sochi Olympics. The track in Sochi was what Kaillie refers to as a “starters’ track,” where the advantage went to the team that could start the quickest. Kaillie and her brakeman, Moyse, faced tough competition from their American rivals, Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams. The Americans consistently started better than Kaillie and her teammate, but in the end, even on this track, it came down to Kaillie’s steering.
Kaillie and Moyse won by a tenth of a second, becoming the first women ever to win back-to-back golds in Olympic bobsledding history. Kaillie was asked to carry the Canadian flag at the Closing Ceremonies. Here she is describing that moment on Canadian television, shortly after the 2014 games:
[CLIP: KAILLIE POST-OLYMPICS]
Kaillie: I was talking to Lizzie Arnold, the British flag bearer, and she’s like ‘I think you wave it like a figure eight.’ So I started doing that as I walked out, and then I started hitting other people’s flags and I was like ‘This is an epic fail. Ok, don’t do that. Thanks Lizzie.’ All these things just go through your head as you’re trying
to smile and, you know, not trip, and at the same time represent your countries.
Flag-bearing form aside, it was a picture-perfect moment. A second-straight win for the golden girls. That was the year that Kaillie won the Lou Marsh Award, which had previously gone to legendary Canadian athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, and, in 1992, Mark Tewksbury. Canada was proud of Kaillie Humphries, and by all accounts, she was proud to be Canadian.
Kaillie had risen to the pinnacle of achievement in her sport. Or, rather, she had achieved just about everything that women could achieve in bobsled. At the time, men had two events at the Olympics—four-man and two-man bobsled—but women only had the one.
As Kaillie explained to me, this wasn’t some accident or oversight. Sexism—blatant, open sexism—is a
feature, not a bug, of the bobsledding world.
Kaillie: When I first got into bobsled women didn't have the same prize money. We weren't allowed on all the same tracks as the men. And it was because we “weren't skilled enough.” We “weren't good enough drivers.” The whole quote, unquote “women driver” thing comes up. You know, you're not working as hard. And so it's not warranted. The women before me to used get boxes of detergent as prizes. There was no prize money.
A man wins a race, he gets prize money. A woman wins, and they hand her a box of detergent.
Kaillie: I've been told we're not skilled enough. We're not strong enough. We're not fast enough. We're not allowed in the same start houses sometimes. You get a tent outside with a heater and it's demoralizing. It's degrading to know that based on your gender.
It was partly thanks to Kaillie’s advocacy, as well the fact that she just kept racking up medals, that the IBSF—that’s the international Bobsled and Skeleton Federation—introduced mixed-gender races in 2014. Later that year, back on her
home track in Calgary, Kaillie became one of the first women to pilot a mixed-gender team to a medal, taking silver in a North American Cup race as Meyers took bronze.
Another major step forward for women in bobsledding has been the introduction of the monobob. As the name suggests, the monobob is a single-person bobsled. By now, it probably won’t shock you to learn that as soon as the IBSF began holding monobob races, Kaillie Humphries was winning them.
[CLIP: 2021 IBSF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP]
Announcer: Kaillie Humphries, two-time Olympic champion, and now, the first-ever monobob world champion!
That was Kaillie’s gold medal run at the 2021 World Championships, which we mentioned at the top of the show. Earlier that week, also at the World Championships, Kaillie had won gold in the two-person event, along with teammate Lolo Jones.
And yes, that’s Lolo Jones, the Olympic hurdler. Lolo Jones the American Olympic hurdler turned
bobsledder. Because, by the time Kaillie won these gold medals, she had left Team Canada and joined Team USA.
According to Kaillie, the trouble started in late 2017, when Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton – or BCS – the organization that runs Canada’s official teams, hired a new coach. That coach was the American bobsledder, former kickboxing champ and occasional ultimate fighter, Todd Hays. According to Kaillie, under Hays, things on Team Canada got dark, fast.
Kaillie: I was the most senior person on the Canadian bobsled team. And for that year I felt less than human. I was told what to think, how to feel, how to act. Um, my teammates were pitted against me. If I didn't abide by the token rule or law, I was
punished with removal of services. I was constantly humiliated, yelled at in front of officials, in front of media, in front of the world at the top of the bobsled track, because I was focused on the wrong thing or because I acted or said something that the head coach didn't like.
Kaillie had dealt with bullies before. But she told us that it became apparent to her, very quickly, that this was on another level. There aren’t many people in the world who could physically intimidate Kaillie Humphries, but Hays was one of them. According to her, he pitted teammates against each other, berated them in public, and made them fear for their safety.
Kaillie: Don’t get me wrong, I fought as hard as I could in regards to standing up for myself, but there was points when I would go home and just cry. And I hated sport. I hated my life. I hated who I was. I doubted every second of every thought
and there was nothing I could do about it. If you stand up for yourself, if you say the wrong thing, maybe I'm going to get punched in the face. My head coach is, you know, over six feet tall weighs 200 and 50 pounds. And it comes from an ultimate fighting background. He's, you know, in the past broken other athletes' jaws, and he's knocked people out. And to know that this person is lording over you yelling and screaming at your face, there's not much you can do. You just have to take it. And I took a year worth of that. And inevitably I said, enough's enough. I want to go home. I can't be here. And that was about a month before the Olympics.
Kaillie found herself losing the will to compete, or even to get up in the morning. In addition to depression, fear, and anxiety, she reported physical symptoms like hives, rashes, and loss of vision. Somehow, despite all this, she made her third-straight Olympic team, but the pain was overwhelming.
Kaillie still managed to win the World Cup that year, coming in first in the overall
standings with three wins and two second-place finishes over eight races. She was on the cusp of defending her Olympic gold for the second time, something that no female bobsledder had done. But she describes that at this point, life on her team had become a nightmare. Things came to a head when Kaillie and her team arrived in PyeongChang for the 2018 games.
Kaillie: We got to the Olympics and I said, I can't do it. I want nothing to do with this coach anymore. Everybody abided and said, okay, great. And that was, it was the best two weeks of my entire year.
An article in the San Diego Tribune notes that Hays and Kaillie had no contact during the 2018 games. Kaillie and her teammate, Phylicia George, won bronze in the two-woman event.
It wasn’t a third-straight gold, but Kaillie says she’s extremely proud of that medal. In many ways, it was the toughest one to earn.
Kaillie: That felt like more than a gold medal, even to get to that point. And. After the season, I
knew that I could not continue in that environment, that I didn't feel safe physically, and that I didn't feel safe mentally to move forward.
In August of 2018, Kaillie filed a harassment complaint against Hays and the leadership of BCS. In the complaint, she wrote that she was verbally and mentally abused by Hays. Kaillie also stated Hays played mind games and detailed the emotional and physical toll the abuse took on her: sleepless nights, headaches, eye, neck, and jaw pain, irregular periods. She even provides four specific examples of Hays’ harassment -- we won’t get into them here for privacy reasons, but you can find the harassment complaint letter online. She also notes Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s failure to take action.
In the complaint, Kaillie also requested that Todd, along with several leaders at BCS who failed to act, be dismissed from their roles or subject to lifetime suspensions. Otherwise, Kaillie wanted off the team.
BCS had Kaillie’s claims investigated, and the initial results concluded in September, 2019, that there was no evidence of harassment. Hays kept his job. Kaillie’s legal team immediately appealed the findings of the initial investigation… and just last July a judge found the investigation to have been improperly conducted. He threw out the findings and ordered BCS to appoint a new investigator to look into her claims.
We reached out to BCS for comment, and received a statement back, saying, “A safe training and competitive environment for everyone involved in our sport is Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s number one priority.” Additionally, BCS’s spokesperson said, “Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton has respected the confidentiality of the ongoing legal process relating to Ms. Humphries since the beginning, and will continue to do so…. out of respect to all parties involved until the ongoing reinvestigation is complete at which time we will provide additional comment on the
Our team also reached out to Todd Hays but did not hear back by the time the episode was scheduled to air.
Rewinding back to 2018, Kaillie had also sued BCS to release her from her contract.
It took an entire year of legal wrangling and arbitration before Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton finally granted Kaillie’s request to be released in late September of 2019. The greatest female bobsledder in Canadian history left Team Canada.
Kaillie: I left. I was not safe. And I knew I was not going to be safe in my environment and they were not going to protect me. And I had to remove myself in order to move forward. And I knew that meant ending my career in Canada. I knew that meant that my career was over. And I reached out to team USA.
Once she had been formally released by Team Canada, Kaillie was free to start competing for the US. To compete in the Olympics, you must be a fully-fledged citizen, but for
competitions like the World Cup, athletes are free to compete for any country where they have established residency, a lower bar than citizenship.
For Kaillie, joining Team USA was a no-brainer. Kaillie and Dan Humphries had divorced, and in 2016 she moved to California. In September 2019, she married Travis Armbruster, an American former bobsledder.
Kaillie was a resident of the United States. She was married to a US citizen. And now that she was free from BCS, she could sign with whatever team she wanted.
Kaillie began competing with Team USA right away. She didn’t get special treatment. She had to buy a sled, go through qualifications, and earn a spot. But she was still Kaillie Humphries. She made the team, and by early 2020, she had won a gold medal at the World Championships.
She says she felt supported in a way that she hadn’t before.
Kaillie: I mean singing the national Anthem for the first time, the star Spangled banner. And I already knew the words
from baseball games from just being around. And plus I studied. So knowing the words, but knowing I wasn't singing alone, my teammates were there.
Kaillie certainly felt American. But according to Article 41 of the Olympic Charter, you have to be a citizen—actually have a passport—in order to represent a country in the Olympics.
Kaillie had an American husband, an American address, and a spot on Team USA, but she didn’t have that passport. She applied for it, but as Kaillie explained it can take anywhere from 9 to 12 months to be called in for an interview. And she began this process with a major disadvantage.
Kaillie: It's really going to suck if I can't compete at a games because of timing on a passport. Especially the reasons of why I couldn't have applied earlier, because Canada postponed my release for a year. They denied my release. They refused to release me for competitive reasons. And I had to sue them to take them to court, to get a release.
And literally the high-performance director said in public that they didn't want to compete against me and wouldn't release me.
In Kaillie’s view, not only did BCS not believe her accusations, they put off releasing her for as long as they could, to keep her from representing a new country at the Olympics.
At the end of the day, Kaillie is a person who wants to do her job. A fierce, world-class athlete who lives for competition.
Kaillie: I couldn't apply in the US side until all of the Canada stuff was done. And to know that there was an intentional political move played by people that. Our lawyers and have the ability to, and I'm just an athlete trying to just compete.
The debate about athletes being able to switch Olympic teams goes back a long time. And it’s not all so fraught.
There are some simple scenarios, like dual nationals. If you have multiple citizenships, you can basically
pick which country you’d like to represent. Two passports, two options. That’s how Ian Kinsler, a four-time Major League Baseball All-Star born in Tuscon, Arizona, was able to play for Israel in the baseball event at the Tokyo Games in 2021.
In some cases, athletes make the switch because of forces beyond their control.
When Guor Marial, a Sudanese marathon runner who lost 28 members of his family in that country’s civil war, qualified for the 2012 Olympics, he had no desire to represent Sudan. So when he competed in London, he didn’t represent any nation. He competed under the Olympic flag.
Triple-jumper Yamilé Aldama is another interesting example. Born in Havana, she placed fourth in the triple jump at Sydney in 2000, representing Cuba. The following year, she married a Scot and moved with him to Great Britain, but was told she’d have to wait three years for her
passport. But, due to some strange circumstances, plus a whole lot of bureaucracy, it ended up taking a decade for Aldama to receive her British passport.
And while it took Aldama 10 years to become a British citizen, many nations are not so stingy.
Case in point: Qatar. A tiny nation with a lot of money to spend on sports. In recent years, Qatar has drawn criticism for paying players with no Qatari background to join their Olympic squads. Its 2016 Olympic handball team featured names like Danijel Šarić, a native of Bosnia with a decorated handball career in Europe; and Bertrand Roiné, who had previously competed at the international level for France.
To many observers, this was absurd. It didn’t help that the Qatar Handball Association
had already been caught paying Spanish fans to attend their games. Qatar may be the most notorious example, but this kind of thing happens a lot. Azerbaijan has allegedly offered athletes $500,000 to accept a passport and compete for them at the Olympics. Kaillie herself told me that she’s fielded offers from countries with which she has no connection:
Kaillie: China came to me, Hey, we'll give you a passport in two days. And I'm like, yeah, cool. But no, thanks. Like, I don't want to compete for you. I have no ties to China. It doesn't make sense. Italy offered. I had a couple of teams that phoned and I'm like, no, that doesn't, that doesn't feel right. It doesn't make sense.
You can see why people have strong reactions to stories like these. It sounds like a violation of something sacred about the Olympics, the idea of competing for your country, for national pride.
But then again, who’s really to say what country any one person belongs to? As stories like Kaillie’s
show, there are all manner of reasons why someone might want to make the switch. And, obviously, it’s possible to be a proud citizen of more than one nation.
Beyond that, is it really that important that everyone in the Olympics be competing for the quote-unquote “right” country? For many, the Games are all about watching the best of the best, the cream of our planet’s athletic talent rising to the top. Maybe it should be as simple as letting the best players and teams into the Olympics, regardless of which flag they’re waving.
Take the example of Xu Xin, who was the third-ranked table tennis player in China in 2012. He also happened to be ranked No. 3 in the world. But because each country was limited to 2 players in the singles table tennis event, Xu Xin didn’t make the Chinese team; he was only selected as an alternate. As a result, the third best player on Earth wasn’t able to compete in the Olympics. What are the Olympics, if they don’t let the world’s top
athletes compete? Consider this, a direct quote from the Olympic Charter: “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.”
This argument has been going on for a long time. It resurfaces in one way, shape, or form every two years. And the issue is only going to get more relevant as globalization brings us all closer together, as boundaries melt and blur, and as climate change forces more and more people to seek shelter in lands far away from where they were born.
But for Kaillie Humphries, those questions are all secondary. When we spoke, she was only focused on two things: Getting to compete in Beijing, and preventing what has happened to her from happening to those who come after her.
Kaillie:...And what I hope in the future is that no athlete ever finds themselves in this situation or they don't stay in abusive environments or harassing environments for fear that they won't go to the Olympics. And I
think that happens a lot. A lot of athletes put up with a lot of stuff that they shouldn’t because it will end their career. Um, nobody should be forced to stay in an environment they don't feel safe in nobody.
Kaillie wants the IOC to take steps to help athletes who want to switch teams because of circumstances like the ones on Team Canada. She wants athletes to have options, better options than choosing between an abusive environment and the end of their Olympic dreams. And she wants to keep chasing hers.
Kaillie: I live in this country. I will raise my family in this country. I love this country. It is who I want to represent. And I think at the Olympics, that's what we should want the best of the best representing their country to the best of their [01:28:00] ability. And it is what the country should be able to produce.
When I spoke to Kaillie about her career and this ordeal, the Beijing Winter Games were three months away. For Kaillie,
three months of training, and three months of waiting…hoping that she would get that notification from US Immigration.
Kaillie: I'm not above every other person in this earth. That's trying to gain American citizenship right now and has their application in. And so, um, I. I want to believe that it will happen and that the timing is right. And I have to have faith in the U S immigration system in, you know, God and the path and everything that that has happened.
Faith in the process, and strength. Strength is something Kaillie Humphries has never been short of, from childhood to now, no matter what the circumstances.
Kaillie: It hasn't always felt like the easiest choice. I will admit. It definitely, there have been times when I'm like, did I do the right thing? Like, and more so just from like the Olympic side of me and the thought
process and as athletes, and as you know, you, you chase this goal, this dream, and what if I don't achieve it?
But there's, there's a dignity piece. I preach so hard about anti-bullying and how it has no place. And I have my entire life attached to. know, standing up for who you are for what you believe in and not being willing to compromise, to bend because somebody else thinks that that should be the way. And so overall I knew when my time was over with Canada, I, I, there was something inside of me that just said, like, you have to practice what you preach. I can't say you need to, you know, put your dignity and be able to have respect and, and stand up against bullies in the system. Adult bullies that are going to treat people or athletes certain ways and abuse the power and the process that they have. And I needed to say something and make a stance. And I risked myself in my career to do it. Um, and I've had to fight real hard
to not let that be the end and to be okay.
When we ended that call three months ago, Kaillie’s fate for Beijing was hanging in the balance,
Molly: Okay. Well, I'm going to keep my fingers crossed. Say all the prayers.
Kaillie: Appreciate it.
Then, on December 2nd, she got some incredible news.
Her citizenship application had been reviewed. She was approved.
Finally, Kaillie received her US passport.
The Beijing Olympics are happening right now. Kaillie is there, competing in red, white and blue.
TORCHED is a production of FilmNation Entertainment in association with Gilded Audio.
It’s executive produced by me -- Molly Bloom, Alyssa Martino, Milan (Muh-lawn) Popelka (Puh-pel-kah),
Andy Chugg, and Whitney Donaldson.
Nicki Stein produced and edited this episode, with help from Michael Quigley. It was written by Stephen Wood.
Technical direction and engineering by Nick Dooley. Original music by James Lavino.
Special thanks to Alison Cohen, Sarah Vacchiano, Matt Aizenstadt, and Omar Tarbush.
Next time on TORCHED: why would an Olympic athlete want to lose a competition on purpose? We get some hints from the surprisingly sketchy side of badminton.
Hans-Kristian Vittinghus: As a sport we just lose the credibility and we cheat all the
fans. It just makes it very difficult for the sport to grow. We’re cheating everyone in the world of badminton.
That’s next time, on TORCHED.
Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, follow, subscribe and leave us a review. See you next time.