Meet the artist behind an Olympic skeleton helmet turning heads in Pyeongchang

Barrett Martineau may not have won gold for Canada in the men's skeleton at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games but his helmet certainly garnered some attention.

'I've painted helmets for other athletes before but with the Olympics, it's just different.'

Kyle Langlois poses with a photo of Olympian Barrett Martineau wearing Langlois custom skeleton helmet. (Derick Deonarain/CBC)

If there were medals for the most striking helmets at the Olympic Winter Games, Canadian skeleton competitor Barrett Martineau would almost certainly be on the podium. 

The 26-year-old turned heads when he slid down the track in Pyeongchang sporting a helmet emblazoned with a roaring grizzly bear.

Kyle Langlois, 33, is the self-taught mastermind behind the eye-catching image. 

The Brampton, Ont., artist never had any formal training but has been airbrushing for almost 20 years. Despite his experience, he's never done pieces for an event as big as the Games.

"I've painted helmets for other athletes before, but with the Olympics, it's just different. It unites the world and it's an exciting time for such a big stage," Langlois said.

Before this recent attention, Langlois painted custom helmets for National Lacrosse League goalies such as Anthony Cosmo, who played for Team Canada at the 2011 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships.

But his work on Martineau's stands apart.

Barrett Martineau races down the Olympic sliding track in PyeongChang. (CBC)

"It's funny, because I've designed the helmet but I've yet to actually meet Barrett in person," he said. 

The pair were connected through a mutual friend who used to ski competitively on the same circuits as the multi-talented Martineau. That friend happened to be at a sports store when he took notice of Langlois's airbrushing skill.

The two hit it off and eventually Langlois was commissioned to paint Martineau's Olympic skeleton helmet. 

Combining sport and art 

While clients often dictate the theme and style for their helmet, Langlois said Martineau wasn't too picky. 

"He just wanted me to put something together. He asked if I could put, like, a leaf on it, and he would be over the moon. But he said I could have a little fun with it, so I did," Langlois told CBC Toronto.

After nailing down a reference image to work from and lightly sketching the outline onto a plain white helmet, the delicate airbrushing process began. 

A mixture of black, grey, orange and magenta make up the colours on the helmet, but there were only two colours that truly mattered to Langlois — red and white. 

"It felt like a call to action or a call to duty to help a fellow Canadian out in any way that I could when Barrett and I connected," he said. 

In the end, Langlois explains, his sense of duty compelled him to complete the helmet for free. 

Kyle Langlois airbrushes a maple leaf onto Barrett Martineau's skeleton helmet ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. (Kyle Langlois)

Community response

Although Martineau finished 24th in skeleton, the response to his helmet back home has been a winner.

"It's been very exciting for me, " Langlois said. "People in the community and people online have been seeing my work on the world stage with Barrett, and the response has been awesome. A lot of people like it."

The unexpected spotlight has led to a big boost in the number of people following his work through his social media accounts. 

Martineau even thanked Langlois for the helmet in a Facebook comment and said, "I'm honoured to be able to wear it."

Though praise from an Olympian is nothing to scoff at, Langlois said that his most meaningful response came from his family. 

"I have a nine-year-old daughter and she told her teacher about my work, and they ended up looking me up online and showing the class. I know my daughter's been happy and my mom as well," he said.  

A signed photo and message from Olympian Barrett Martineau thanking Kyle Langlois for his Olympic skeleton helmet. (Garry Asselstine/ CBC)

Looking ahead

With the 2018 Winter Games wrapping up soon, Langlois has set his sights on the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

"I would definitely continue painting helmets for athletes but I would also be interested in doing some of the body suits," he said. 

Recently, Langlois has started working with a company called Morphsuits, which specializes in the kind of spandex uniforms many winter Olympians wear during competition. He hopes to move away from airbrushing helmets and toward designing the next generation of outfits for Canadians on the track. 

For now, though, Langlois is taking in his small slice of fame. 

"Regardless of the result, it was an honour just to be a part of the Olympics in some small way," he said.