US luger overcomes obstacles on Olympic odyssey

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Christian Niccum’s odyssey to keep sliding inside the five Olympic rings has been like a trip down a luge track - harrowing, twisting, turning. Up one instant, down the next. Sometimes very painful.

Injuries and surgeries. Financial hardships. Leaning on his parents. Long periods away from his wife and kids.

Along the way, he nearly quit but changed his mind. He risked crippling himself to keep going fast, chasing a medal.

He’s now about to make his last ride, one final shot.

This time, pain free.

“I want to leave the sport healthy,” he said. “I want to leave like an Olympian.”

Since competing at the Vancouver Games in 2010, Niccum, who began his luge career in singles, has undergone two back operations, torn his Achilles tendon and had to move his family into his parents’ house to support a sliding addiction that began as a boy with a glide down a hill in a wheeled sled at summer camp.

It’s been quite a trip for Niccum of Woodinville, Wash., who will compete with partner Jayson Terdiman in the doubles competition Wednesday. They’re longer than a longshot in a race that figures to be dominated by two German teams: Tobias Wendl-Tobias Arlt and Toni Eggert-Sascha Benecken.

In his third Olympics, Niccum (pronounced NIC-come) could be down to two runs if he isn’t chosen to participate in the new team event.

At 36 years old, the hour glass is nearly drained of sand.

“This is my 24th year doing the sport,” he said, standing in the finish area of the Sanki Sliding Track following practice. “I love it. I’ve gotten to go down these tracks for so many years. I’ve always said just doing it one day I would be satisfied, let alone for 24 years. I’m definitely happy.”

More important, he’s healthy.

“I’m out of the pain,” he said, balling his fists and raising his arms in a mini-celebration. “I feel better than I have my whole life.”

Four years ago, Niccum slid in Whistler, British Columbia, with teammate Dan Joye despite searing pain caused by degenerative back disks. He could barely move as his back seized up before, during and after competition. It was during those games that he was approached by one of the U.S. team doctors who promised he could finally free Niccum from years of misery.

“He told me, ‘I can fix you,’” Niccum said.

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