February 5, 2014 / 10:05 AM / 4 years ago

Fairbairn takes a brainy approach

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Canadian Olympic skeleton slider John Fairbairn has a degree in mechanical engineering and a brain painted on his helmet.

Lest there be any doubt, the World Cup medalist likes to portray himself as one of the brighter members of his squad in a sport where mental strength is key.

“I’ve always kind of been the smart guy on the team,” he said, to open-mouthed gasps and laughter from his colleagues seated alongside at a news conference at the Sochi Games on Wednesday.

”I’ve always been a bit of a nerd and so I’ve had a brain painted on my helmet.

“A lot of people kind of get my last name a little bit wrong and don’t pronounce it quite right. We were racing at a track in Germany a number of years ago and the track announcer started calling me Fairbrain.”

A team mate, and now coach, picked up on it and the name stuck in the abbreviated form of ‘Brains’. It was only a small step from there to having a glowing human brain painted on his race helmet for Sochi.

Team mate Eric Neilson took a different approach as the helmet discussion continued.

“Unlike John, apparently I‘m a complete idiot,” he told reporters.

“So my helmet is a demon head. There’s a fun happy-go-lucky type of guy and a guy who’s all business and really focused. The helmet is on fire, it’s got some scary teeth and stuff.”

Helmet art is a fun and prominent element of skeleton, a sliding sport where the contenders plunge headfirst down an icy chute on a sled.

It is also a big feature of Canadian ice hockey, with full face goalie masks often painted with outlandish designs.

“I think it’s one of the opportunities that we have in our sport to show our own personalities,” said Calgary slider Sarah Reid, who has painted a ‘Day of the Dead’ image on hers with a girl and skulls.

Team mate Melissa Hollingsworth, the 2006 bronze medalist who has competed professionally on the rodeo circuit, will compete with a horse’s skull decoration on her helmet.

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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