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Meyers Taylor, Humphries on verge of history

Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor are set to compete in four-man bobsled this weekend in Calgary. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/AP Images; Mike Groll/AP Images

Katharin Dewey showed Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries the possibilities, decades before either was born.

Dewey started bobsledding in the mid-1930s, a woman competing against men before new safety rules prevented that from happening. It probably was no coincidence those rules were amended soon after Dewey outdrove all-male sleds at Lake Placid, New York for the national championship in 1940.

Her torch is now passed.

Meyers Taylor and Humphries will make history at Calgary, Alberta on Saturday, when they compete against men on bobsledding's top circuit, the World Cup tour. Meyers Taylor will drive a sled for the U.S. with three men along for the ride. Humphries will do the same for Canada.

"This is my passion," said Humphries, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in women's bobsledding, where only two are in a sled. "It's what I love to do. I do this to be the best I can be. I don't do it to prove anything to anybody."

Still, that's exactly what will happen this weekend.

Neither Meyers Taylor nor Humphries is expected to win any four-person race this season. That's not an indictment of their skill; they're considered the best two women's drivers in the world, strong, speedy, explosive and powerful, the perfect mix for bobsledding. But since both will be driving the No. 3 sleds for their respective countries, they won't have the best equipment or pushers.

They'll get leftovers.

"The biggest thing is just proving that women can drive four-man sleds," Meyers Taylor said. "It's baffling to me that it's not just assumed. We're driving a sled. We do that. I don't know why it's such a big deal."

She knows exactly why it's a big deal.

This is the first season that bobsled's international governing body has defined what was called four-man bobsledding as gender neutral. Officially, the sport is still classified as four-man, though some are now calling it four-person in deference to Meyers Taylor and Humphries being part of the tour.

Rules allowing the coed sled were changed this fall, so it was a mad scramble for Humphries and Meyers Taylor -- the top two drivers, respectively, in both the women's World Cup standings and in the women's race at the Sochi Olympics last winter -- just to qualify for World Cup. To be certified for the top series, they needed to compete in five races on three tracks in a two-year span.

So they raced in Utah, Canada and France, piling up tons of air miles and hotel nights before their season really began. It was exhausting, to the point where both skipped the four-person portion of last weekend's World Cup bobsled opener at Lake Placid because they didn't want to take any unnecessary risks.

"We made the right decision," Meyers Taylor said.

Saturday will be a test for both. The women's race immediately precedes the four-person race in Calgary, meaning they will be driving down the track four times in the span of a couple hours.

"It'll be intense," Humphries said.

They will be the only two women in the four-person sleds on the World Cup tour this season. Both figure it will make their skills even sharper, and Meyers Taylor said she came away from her first four-man trip convinced the bigger sled was easier to drive.

More women plan to try driving the bigger sled next year. Eventually, there's hope for four-women teams and an all-new discipline. That's a long way off.

The challenge for Meyers Taylor and Humphries this year is mostly going to be provided by physics. Neither woman is as heavy or as strong the top male drivers, which means their sleds simply won't have the same power generated by most all-male teams.

"It's going to be interesting," said USA-1 pilot Steven Holcomb, a former world and Olympic champion. "They're at a slight disadvantage because they'll be lighter and it's going to be a challenge. But if they want to race, they're more names to add to my list, more butts to kick."

He said that last sentence with a mischievous grin.

But he was also serious, and the ladies -- who have been welcomed by the top drivers on the circuit, though Humphries was turned down by some brakemen she approached to be part of her team -- would have it no other way.

"There's going to be banter, there's going to be jokes," Humphries said. "When Elana and I start beating people, it's going to change again. They're not going to like that, but I really don't care."

Sounds like something Katharin Dewey would have said.