Five-ring Circus

How an Artist Made That Awesome Olympics Skeleton Helmet With a Roaring Grizzly Bear

Canada's Barrett Martineau competes in the mens's skeleton heat 1 during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang.  / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN        (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Canada’s Barrett Martineau competes in the mens’s skeleton heat 1 during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang.
MOHD RASFAN/Getty Images

Barrett Martineau was never a threat to win a medal in men’s skeleton. The 26-year-old Canadian, who finished in 24th position, didn’t even take a fourth and final face-first run, as those last jaunts down the icy track at the Olympic Sliding Centre were reserved for those in the top 20. But as you can see from the image at the top of this post, Martineau was one of the big winners in Pyeongchang: The Canadian slider had by far the best helmet at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The bear-painting genius behind that helmet is Kyle Langlois. The 33-year-old Langlois, who lives in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and has been doing custom airbrush art for 14 years, told me he got connected to Martineau in 2013. “He wasn’t too specific or picky,” Langlois said, “he was hoping I could maybe put a leaf on it for him or something—something to make it Canadian.” Langlois, who painted the helmet for free because he felt “a call to duty” to assist a fellow Canadian, did a lot more than put a leaf on it.

Langlois, who had painted hundreds of hockey goalie masks but never a skeleton helmet, said he was inspired by seeing a lid adorned with a mean-looking beaver—perhaps the one below, worn by Canada’s Jeff Pain at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

WHISTLER, BC - FEBRUARY 18:  Jeff Pain of Canada competes in the men's skeleton run 1 on day 7 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at The Whistler Sliding Centre on February 18, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Jeff Pain of Canada competes in the men’s skeleton run 1 on day 7 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at The Whistler Sliding Centre on February 18, 2010 in Whistler, Canada.
Clive Mason/Getty Images

He also cited another helmet, this one covered with a brain pattern, as a creation that helped him understand the creative possibilities of the skeleton-helmet medium.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: John Fairbairn of Canada competes during the Men's Skeleton heats on Day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
John Fairbairn of Canada competes during the Men’s Skeleton heats on Day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Once he decided Barrett should get a mean-looking grizzly bear, Langlois browsed online for reference images, then lightly penciled a design onto the plain white helmet. He then got to work with his airbrush gun, spraying black and gray acrylic paint to create the bear and blending together orange and magenta to fashion the deep red maple leaf elements that encircle the bottom of the helmet.

One of Langlois’ favorite things about the design is that when Martineau has his head upright, you only see those Canadian symbols.

KOENIGSSEE, GERMANY - JANUARY 28:  Barrett Martineau of Canada competes during the Men's Skeleton first run of the BMW IBSF World Cup at Deutsche Post Eisarena Koenigssee on January 28, 2017 in Koenigssee, Germany.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images For IBSF)
Barrett Martineau of Canada competes during the Men’s Skeleton first run of the BMW IBSF World Cup at Deutsche Post Eisarena Koenigssee on January 28, 2017 in Koenigssee, Germany.
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

When he flies down the track, however, the bear—Martineau’s game face—is front and center.

Canada's Barrett Martineau competes in the mens's skeleton heat 1 during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang.  / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN        (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Canada’s Barrett Martineau competes in the mens’s skeleton heat 1 during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Olympic Sliding Centre on February 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang.
MOHD RASFAN/Getty Images

Langlois said Martineau loved the helmet; he told the artist that other skeleton racers complimented him for having the best-looking noggin on tour. That’s high praise considering all the other exemplary designs on display in the skeleton world.

Yun Sung-bin of South Korea, who won gold in Pyeongchang, went for an Iron Man look.

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 16:  Sungbin Yun of Korea slides on his way to winning the Men's Skeleton at Olympic Sliding Centre on February 16, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Yun Sung-bin of Korea slides on his way to winning the Men’s Skeleton at Olympic Sliding Centre on February 16, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong opted for a lion design.

TOPSHOT - Ghana's Akwasi Frimpong takes part in a training session for the men's skeleton event at the Olympic Sliding Centre, during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, on February 11, 2018.
        
         / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV        (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong takes part in a training session for the men’s skeleton event at the Olympic Sliding Centre, during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, on February 11, 2018.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

And Joseph Luke Cecchini of Italy went with a glowing skull.

TOPSHOT - Joseph Luke Cecchini of Italy starts his men's skeleton training session at the Olympic Sliding Centre, during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 12, 2018.
        
         / AFP PHOTO / Mark Ralston        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Joseph Luke Cecchini of Italy starts his men’s skeleton training session at the Olympic Sliding Centre, during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on February 12, 2018.
MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

Langlois’ recent work tends to the creepy and grotesque. Over the last few years, he’s moved away from helmets and started working with a company called Morphsuits that sells spandex costumes. This scary clown is one of his favorites:

He’s also partial to this skull and bones design:

Langlois said it was very cool to see his helmet at the Olympics. It would be even cooler, he said, to see a skeleton racer dressed like a skeleton. Let’s hope someone takes him up on that in 2022.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Part-Time Skier Ester Ledecka’s Shocking Super-G Win Was the Best Moment of the Winter Games

According to Science, the Shirtless Tongan Is Not an Olympics Jerk

Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis Deserved the Redemption Narrative NBC Gave Shaun White

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