Skeleton athletes combine style and speed with racy helmet designs
It takes nerves of steel to compete in an event where speeds can touch on 120km/h, so Olympic skeleton racers are a tough breed. Away from the track, they also boast artistic tendencies, and often like to use the high profile accorded to their helmets to express their individualism.
Helmet designs on display at Sochi 2014 range from cultural motifs to the out-and-out surreal.
American 29-year-old Katie Uhlaender has opted for a bald eagle, with red and white stripes trailing away on her white helmet.
“Picabo and I hooked up in 2010 and our acquaintance was a huge inspiration for me,” explains Uhlaender.
“I got a new helmet and she offered to hook me up with a guy who painted her helmet for the 2002 Games. The result matched my expectations completely and since that time I always wear it.”
From anatomy to zombies
Meanwhile, the Canadians are going for the more outlandish approach. Sarah Reid, a 26-year-old, two-time world championship bronze medallist, has opted for a helmet that features a zombie's face, with added maple leafs to incorporate a Canadian dimension.
“Originally I wanted an image that I found on the Internet. It was a girl's face - half normal, half skull,” she explains.
“But my designer suggested a slightly more symmetrical image on top of the helmet, saying it looks better from far away. He made it well. It's just what I wanted - kind of feminine, but still kind of scary and deadly looking.”
Her compatriot John Fairbairn sports a black helmet with a bizarre orange depiction of the human brain on top.
“My family name is a bit tricky to pronounce correctly and plenty of people are doing it wrong,” he says. “Once, at a competition in Germany a couple of years ago, the announcer called me 'John Fair-brain'.
“My team-mate, and now coach Keith Loach, picked up on that and started calling me 'Fairbrain', which lately got shortened to 'Brain'. I've always been the nerdy guy on the team and so my helmet design completely fits with who I am.”