What's the story behind China's creepy track cycling helmets?

Eye-catching design ridden to gold in the women's team sprint

While Great Britain's track cyclists have dominated proceedings in the velodrome at the Rio Olympics, it is one of just two events that the Brits haven't won that has been causing the most flutter across the internet.

Team GB didn't even qualify a team into the women's team sprint, and so it was the Chinese duo of Jinjie Gong and Tianshi Zhong who beat the Russian pair of Daria Shmeleva and Anastasiia Voinova to take the gold medal. However despite their fine ride, it was their helmets that got the most attention.

China win the women's team sprint at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

China win the women's team sprint at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
(Image credit: Watson)

The faces on the helmets are depictions of the masks worn by performers in traditional Peking Opera, with the women's team sprint riders wearing the masks of the legendary female warriors Mu Guiying and Hua Mulan (yes, the same Mulan from the Disney movie).

China's rider in the men's team sprint, Xu Chan, was also wearing a similar helmet with the mask of the male warrior Zhang Fei. Unfortunately this didn't work out quite as well for Xu as he was knocked out in the quarter finals by the eventual silver medallist Callum Skinner.

The designs on the Kask helmets, which are the work of Guangzhao graphic designer and bike designer Zhang Dongliang, received the approval of Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry on Twitter.

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Others were quick to suggest alternative designs that British Cycling's "Secret Squirrel Club" could start working on for the Tokyo Olympics in four years time.

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We'll get a few more chances to see the helmets over the next couple of days with Tianshi Zhong riding in the 1/8 finals of the women's sprint this afternoon, while Xiaoling Luo goes off in the women's omnium against Laura Trott this evening.

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Henry Robertshaw began his time at Cycling Weekly working with the tech team, writing reviews, buying guides and appearing in videos advising on how to dress for the seasons. He later moved over to the news team, where his work focused on the professional peloton as well as legislation and provision for cycling. He's since moved his career in a new direction, with a role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.