ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - They are easily distinguishable - four Canadian men with bushy beards creeping out from underneath their crash helmets. They could easily pass for lumberjacks if they were not bobsledders.
It started as a way to help team bonding and the luxuriant whiskers have continued to sprout on the chins of Justin Kripps, Tim Randall, Bryan Barnett and James McNaughton - the four-man crew who make up the CAN-3 sled.
Randall got a head start on the others and sports an impressive flocculent dark black mane. His own website says he is “dedicated to growing my beard like I am dedicated to my bobsleigh training”.
The team even have their own Twitter hashtag: #Beardmode
“It was an Olympic thing to start with ... team bonding, make the other nations scared of us, make all the girls want us,” Kripps, who pilots the CAN-3 sled, told Reuters.
”Pretty much all of us have fallen in love with them, we’ve got a lot of attention from it.
“We started in September, Tim in May. He got a head start on us but I think we’re all looking good, they’re all pretty much hanging out the helmets now so that’s what we want. I’ve had some of the best times of my life with this beard.”
The quartet caused a bit of stir last month when the pony-tailed Kripps tweeted a picture of himself and his shirtless team mates posing in their underwear.
It perhaps caused too much of a stir in Russia with Kripps finding his website ‘restricted’ when he tried to access it in Sochi.
Kripps describes himself on his Twitter profile as an “Hawaiian-born beach bum, international man of mystery and seeker of adventure”.
‘MAN OF MYSTERY’
Growing up in Hawaii before moving to Summerland in the interior of British Columbia, the burly 27-year-old ‘bobsleigh nomad’ also holds an Australian passport.
“Just kind of the circumstances of my life ... the way I was raised and stuff,” he says of the “man of mystery” moniker.
”Kind of crazy, being born in Hawaii. I have three citizenships - Australia, Canada, and the United States.
“I live a pretty nomadic bobsleigh lifestyle so it’s just how it is. I love it.”
His roots to his childhood remain strong - he names his sleds after Hawaiian goddesses.
“The two-man is Pele, the goddess of fire and lava. The four-man I first raced in World Cup races was Poliahu, the goddess of ice and snow.”
Now he is hoping for a little bit of help from a Superhero - Kal-El, the boy born on the planet of Krypton who became Superman.
“This year I inherited (team mate) Lyndon Rush’s four-man sled from the 2010 Olympics. He won a (bronze) medal in that sled so a tribute to him and that sled I left the name Kel-Al. It kind of sounds Hawaiian too.”
Kripps, who won a World Cup race for the first time last month, is hoping to take the momentum of finishing sixth in the Olympic two-man event - the best of the three Canadian sleds - into the four-man competition which starts on Saturday.
His good showing, he said, was in spite of not having had as much experience as others of the Sanki track.
“I didn’t get to come to the international training week at the start of the year, so I missed out on 20-25 runs,” he said.
“But I‘m looking to keep those lines from the two-man going and take the momentum into the four-man and hopefully surprise people again.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford