Keep your head


Skele­ton racer Elisabeth Vathje of Canada takes off dur­ing a train­ing run at Olympic Slid­ing Cen­tre in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Wed­nes­day. The Cana­dian team fea­tures an ar­ray of colour­ful and per­sonal hel­met de­signs that re­veal some­thing unique about who they are.

That story and more Olympic cover­age

As with goalie masks in hockey, the paint on each Cana­dian’s hel­met re­veals some­thing unique about who they are

Elisabeth Vathje and a cou­ple of other Cana­dian skele­ton rac­ers were brain­storm­ing about po­ten­tial hel­met art­work when a su­per-hu­man con­cept popped into her head.

“‘What do you think about Won­der Woman?’ ” Vathje re­mem­bers ask­ing. “My one team­mate was like, ‘Yeah, be­cause it’s like your in­ner su­per hero is com­ing out.’ ” But the fe­male DC Comics char­ac­ter wasn’t enough for the 23-yearold Cal­gary na­tive. She also wanted her sense of hu­mour to shine through.

“The top of the hel­met [looks] com­pletely bro­ken. The idea is be­cause I’ve had a lot of crashes and to kind of make light of that,” Vathje said. “So it’s like smashed glass on the top. On the front and all around it is the Won­der Woman crown.”

Skele­ton, a sport where com­peti­tors race down icy tracks head-first at in­cred­i­ble speeds, was sched­uled to kick off on Thurs­day at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

And much like a goalie mask in hockey, the paint on each Cana­dian com­peti­tor’s hel­met re­veals some­thing unique about who they are.

“It cre­ates such a char­ac­ter to the ath­lete, and I think it helps the gen­eral pub­lic iden­tify with peo­ple,” said Chris Le Bihan, high-per­for­mance di­rec­tor for Canada’s bob­sled and skele­ton teams. “You don’t see a lot of their faces, you don’t see a lot of who this per­son ac­tu­ally is.

“When they have these cool, unique de­signs on their hel­mets, you im­me­di­ately iden­tify who’s go­ing down the track.”

For in­stance, men’s skele­ton racer Dave Greszczyszyn’s pro­tec­tive head­gear fea­tures a griz­zly bear as an homage to his al­pha­bet soup of a last name.

“Ever since high school, I’ve been called Grizz,” said the 38-year-old from Bramp­ton, Ont. “I stuck with it … eas­ier to say for an­nounc­ers and friends.”

While both Vathje and Greszczyszyn’s de­signs lean on the lighter side, team­mate Mirela Rah­neva de­cided to go in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion by honour­ing her mom, who died in June at the age of 53 after a long bat­tle with can­cer.

Rah­neva’s hel­met in­cludes a woman in the form of a tree on the back – meant to rep­re­sent her mother – a Bul­gar­ian rose to sym­bol­ize her fam­ily her­itage prior to mov­ing to Ot­tawa in 1997, and a white moose for the life she’s made for her­self in Canada.

“The big­gest thing when [my mom] passed away is she lives on through our mem­o­ries of her,” the 29-year-old said. “It’s a re­minder that she’s with me all the time.”

Jane Chan­nell, mean­while, de­cided to pay trib­ute to her boyfriend with his foot­ball num­ber after he died sud­denly in 2009 at just 21. “On the front, I’ve got wings with the No. 7 in there,” said Chan­nell, a na­tive of North Van­cou­ver, B.C. “He was the one that taught me to dream big.

“With­out him, I would not be here.”

The 29-year-old’s hel­met also gives a nod to the 2010 Olympics in Van­cou­ver, which helped in­spire the for­mer sprinter to get into skele­ton.

“There’s a rib cage with a glow­ing heart, which hap­pens to be a Maple Leaf,” Chan­nell ex­plained. “So I’ve got Canada run­ning through my veins.”

Le Bihan said he ex­pects each de­sign, no mat­ter the rea­son­ing be­hind it, to con­nect with Cana­di­ans watch­ing back home.

“It cre­ates a story,” he said. “There’s a story be­hind each one of their hel­mets.”

Based on this year’s World Cup re­sults, Vathje ap­pears to be Canada’s best hope at a medal in Pyeongchang after fin­ish­ing with three sil­vers and a bronze over eight races this sea­son, good for third in the over­all stand­ings.

And if she steps onto the Olympic podium at her first Games, it will be after a race where she sported a hel­met that helps ex­press who she is as a per­son.

“It’s mainly to have fun,” Vathje said, “and to re­mind my­self that I’m to­bog­gan­ing for a liv­ing.”

There’s a story be­hind each one of their hel­mets.



Canada’s Mirela Rah­neva used her hel­met de­sign to hon­our her mother, Valentina, who died in June at the age of 53 after a long bat­tle with can­cer.

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