COVID pandemic robs Lake Placid of historic bobsled moment

U.S. bobsledder Kaillie Humphries celebrates her gold-medal World Championships win in Altenberg, Germany Sunday, Feb. 14 in the monobob event. (Provided photo — IBSF)

U.S. bobsled pilot Kaillie Humphries earned a gold medal in the two-woman event with Lolo Jones on Feb. 6 during the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s World Championships at Altenberg, Germany.

That win was supposed to happen on the home track in Lake Placid.

The 2021 World Championships were moved from Lake Placid to Altenberg, Germany due to the coronavirus pandemic, essentially robbing New York’s Olympic village from this historic moment. Exactly 90 years ago – on Feb. 6, 1931 — bobsledding made its competitive debut at the Mount Van Hoevenberg run, built for the III Olympic Winter Games in 1932. (The Lake Placid Olympic Museum recognizes Dec. 25, 1930 as the big historic moment on that run since it was the first time passengers rode a bobsled down it.)

The U.S. has come a long way in those 90 years. The first North American four-man bobsled champion was Henry Homburger of Saranac Lake with his team of “Red Devils.” Homburger earned a silver medal the following year at the Olympics, piloting a four-man sled.

Some of the early Olympic bobsled medalists came from the Adirondacks. Notably, there were 1932 gold medalists J. Hubert and Curtis Stevens of Lake Placid and 1936 gold medalists Ivan Brown and Alan Washbond of Keene, but there have been plenty of other local bobsledders competing on the world stage since 1931.

Only men competed at first. And while there was one notable female bobsled pilot from Lake Placid during the late 1930s and early 1940s – Katherine Dewey — Olympic bobsledding was a sport designated only for men until the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. It was there that Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the first gold medal for the U.S. women’s team.

Fast-forward to the 2020-21 season, which was cut short for American sliders as they missed the first four World Cup events before heading to Europe in January. In four World Cups plus the World Championships — held the past two weekends — two female pilots from the U.S. team earned five medals each.

In addition to her gold in the two-woman event in Altenberg, Humphries was the first woman to win a World Championships in monobob, which will make its Olympic debut in 2022 in Beijing. It was her third monobob gold medal this year, and she took home two gold medals in the two-woman event with Jones. Elana Meyers Taylor won two silver medals in monobob this year; two silvers in the two-woman event, one with Lake Kwaza and one with Sylvia Hoffman; and one bronze in the two-woman event with Hoffman.

As we head into the next Olympic bobsledding season, the U.S. team has some medal favorites. And even though World Championship history wasn’t made on the Lake Placid track this season, the pandemic hasn’t stopped us from celebrating our long and prosperous history of bobsledding.