A citizenship ceremony gives Team USA an instant Olympic medal favorite

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Kaillie Humphries of the United States celebrate after winning with Lolo Jones the two women's bobsleigh race at the Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships in Altenberg, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Kaillie Humphries celebrates her 2021 bobsled world championship. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Kaillie Humphries, the five-time world-champion bobsledder who won three Olympic medals for Canada last decade, and who then left the Canadian program to escape an allegedly abusive coach, entered the final month of 2021 still in search of route to 2022 Winter Games.

Due to International Olympic Committee rules, she needed citizenship from her adopted country, the United States, or else she'd be "stateless" and unable to compete.

On Thursday, with just one month to spare, she got it.

Humphries was sworn in as a U.S. citizen at a ceremony in San Diego. She doesn't yet have a passport in hand, but will in time to compete for Team USA in Beijing. She'll still have to qualify, but as the reigning world champion in both the two-woman and monobob competitions, she almost surely will. And she'll enter the Games as a medal favorite.

Humphries' citizenship quest

As a California resident with an American husband, Humphries had been competing for Team USA on the international bobsled circuit. She won world titles in stars and stripes in 2020 and 2021.

But Olympic rules require athletes to be “nationals” of the country they represent. Humphries knew she'd eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship via marriage; she wedded American citizen Travis Armbruster in 2019. U.S. immigration law, however, requires three years of “marital union." Humphries had been told she’d have to wait for a passport until summer 2023.

So she and her team began scrambling, Googling, contacting immigration lawyers and politicians and Olympic officials in search of a path to the Games. She petitioned the International Olympic Committee to consider her extenuating circumstances; it refused. She eventually found an expedited route to citizenship.

Neither Humphries' team nor U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would confirm how she qualified for an exemption to the baseline three-year rule. But in interviews with Yahoo Sports last month, she and Armbruster mentioned that Armbruster had landed a job with a U.S.-based medical imaging company that will send him across Europe and Asia throughout the coming year to service clients. Independently, immigration experts pointed out that Volume 12, Part G, Chapter 4 of the USCIS policy manual waives the three-year marital union requirement for the spouses of U.S. citizens working abroad.

Humphries, who had been in Europe competing in bobsled World Cup events, flew from Germany to San Diego this week for her citizenship meeting, then hopped on a plane to fly back to Germany and compete this weekend.

Before she did, she draped an American flag over her shoulders, waved another miniature one in her right hand, beamed, and said: "I’m more emotional than I thought I would be."

Humphries' escape to Team USA

Humphries moved to Carlsbad, California, in 2016, a year after she and Armbruster met on Facebook. At the time, she was a Canadian star, with no intentions of defecting from Team Canada. Even in 2018, after a season of allegedly being “publicly demeaned,” “mentally abused” and “verbally attacked” by head coach Todd Hays, Humphries says she hoped to continue competing for Canada. She and Armbruster got engaged in September of that year, and scheduled the wedding for September of the following year, 2019.

But as the wedding neared, her dispute with the Canadian bobsled federation got messy. Humphries had detailed her allegations to officials informally and then in a formal complaint in August 2018. After being given what she calls "lip service," and then after what she felt was was a "very biased" investigation — one which an arbitrator would later discredit — she reached out to Team USA. On Aug. 3 of 2019, she asked Canada for her release, which would allow her to compete internationally with the United States.

Canada, for over a month, refused to grant it. “I was being held sport-hostage for no reason whatsoever,” Humphries told Yahoo Sports, “other than that I'm really good at what I do.” So on Sept. 11, 2019, three days before the wedding, she sued for her freedom. Canada resisted, then two weeks later relented, and Humphries was cleared to switch allegiances.

(A BCS spokesman, in a statement last month, declined to address Humphries’ allegations, and declined to make Hays or Storey available for an interview.)

Humphries gets her citizenship

Humphries knew all along, though, that she'd need citizenship or an IOC exemption to go to the Olympics. The IOC declined her pleas. And "there was a general understanding,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Aron McGuire told Yahoo Sports last month, “that through marriage, she would not get citizenship in time to compete for the United States in Beijing.” Humphries and her team, therefore, had to find a way to speed up the process.

They worked with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, with congressmen, and most of all, with multiple attorneys at the law firm Jackson Lewis. Humphries credited all of them with helping her through the "long journey."

In one sense, it ended on Thursday, as an American. Now, another journey — to Beijing, and perhaps another medal stand — continues.

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