PICTURES

Winter Olympics: Skeleton stars get head start by design

A picture combination shows the helmets of eighteen athletes during the men and women skeleton event training at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near Sochi, on Feb 10, 2014. (From top left to botto
A picture combination shows the helmets of eighteen athletes during the men and women skeleton event training at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, near Sochi, on Feb 10, 2014. (From top left to bottom right) Romania's Maria Marinela Mazilu, Katie Uhlaender of the US, New Zealand's Ben Sandford, Australia's Lucy Chaffer, Canada's Sarah Reid, Noelle Pikus-Pace of the US, Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth, Italy's Maurizio Oioli, Britain's Elizabeth Yarnold, Austria's Janine Flock, Germany's Anja Huber, Switzerland's Marina Gilardoni, Canada's John Fairbairn, Greece's Alexandros Kefalas, Canada's Eric Neilson, Austria's Raphael Maier, Ireland's Sean Greenwood and Japan's Nozomi Komuro. Pictures taken on Feb 10, 2014. -- PHOTOS: REUTERS
Katie Uhlaender of the US speeds down the track during a women's skeleton training session at the Sanki sliding centre in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic, near Sochi, on Feb 8, 2014. Hurtling head first down the Sanki sliding c
Katie Uhlaender of the US speeds down the track during a women's skeleton training session at the Sanki sliding centre in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic, near Sochi, on Feb 8, 2014. Hurtling head first down the Sanki sliding centre at speeds touching 120kmh, Olympic skeleton racers are a tough breed on the track and boast an artistic flourish off it. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (AFP) - Hurtling head first down the Sanki sliding centre at speeds touching 120kmh, Olympic skeleton racers are a tough breed on the track and boast an artistic flourish off it.

Take a look at the designs on their helmets for proof - the patriotic, the nerdy and the absurd.

American 29-year-old Katie Uhlaender has opted for national pride with a bold depiction of the Bald Eagle, the US national emblem with red and white stripes trailing away on her white helmet.

She said that the design of her helmet was inspired by the Olympic gold medallist in alpine skiing, Picabo Street.

"Picabo and I hooked up in 2010 and our acquaintance was a huge inspiration for me," Uhlaender told AFP.

"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."

Canadians are going for the more outlandish.

Sarah Reid, a 26-year-old, two-time world championship bronze medallist, has opted for a Walking Dead-style helmet that features a zombie's face. It also has maple leaves for a little national identity.

"Originally I wanted an image that I found on the Internet. It was a girl's face - half normal, half skull," she said.

"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."

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 said.

"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."

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