Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

We're going to stay with the Olympics for another installment in our occasional series called Why Music Matters. Every now and then, we'll bring you the stories of music fans in their own words about how songs or bands have changed their lives. Today's story features an athlete from the other Olympics.

CHRISTIAN NICCUM: You can't lose your cool. You can't lose your focus. There is no break. There is no eject button. You have to finish the run. My name is Christian Niccum. I'm on the U.S. luge team. I always compare to being a high wire, tightrope walking act, except you're doing it on your back going 90 miles per hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF A LUGE)

NICCUM: I was 15 years old in Berchtesgaden, Germany. It's the oldest artificial luge track in the world, and it's also the most difficult. There's four really tight turns and each one does basically a 180. You have to steer up the curb and then you steer out. We go and bird it at the time and then come down. My coach, he said that there's a rhythm that you have to catch. You have to be in the rhythm of the track. At that time, I had lots of mixed tapes that I stole from my brother. I was playing in my Walkman. And one song had a powerful influence over me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEROIN")

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) Going to try for the kingdom.

NICCUM: The way it felt to me was just total peace and total relaxation and total focus. You know, time and space I guess just became balanced for me at that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF A LUGE)

NICCUM: I didn't recognize what I did until I heard my other teammates that they watched the run. And they just came up to me and they go, Oh, my gosh - that was so amazing. I can't believe you did that. You came out of that curb and your head was all the way back and you were blind. You weren't looking where you're going, but the line was perfect. And ultimately, I ended up breaking the track record and getting the fastest time ever down on this track.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HEROIN")

NICCUM: Honestly, I really owed it to that song because I listen to it over and over and over again. And that song was the song that set the tone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEROIN")

UNDERGROUND: (Singing) I was born a thousand years ago.

NICCUM: Turn out to be The Velvet Underground song, "Heroin."

(LAUGHTER)

NICCUM: I remember, at 15, I didn't know what heroin was. People think luge, Oh, that's an adrenaline sport. You're crazy. You're adrenaline junkie. And it's actually - it's the opposite. When I'm doing luge, I have to be completely calm and completely relaxed. So I find listening to music helps me get into the rhythm and in the mood that I need to be in, to navigate the course.

SULLIVAN: That's Christian Niccum with why music matters. Our series is produced with Anna Boiko-Weyrauch.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEROIN")

UNDERGROUND: (Singing) Where a man can not be free of all of the evils of this town.

SULLIVAN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: