Carnegie Hall To Pyeongchang: Speedskater Kimani Griffin Heads To First Olympics : The Torch Speedskater Kimani Griffin will make his first Olympic appearance for the 2018 Winter Games next month, but he's no stranger to the spotlight. NPR's Michel Martin talks with Griffin about the trip.

From Carnegie Hall To Pyeongchang, Speedskater Heads To His First Olympic Games

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're starting to turn our attention to the Winter Olympics. They're just a few weeks away. So now is the time to get to know some of the athletes who will be representing Team USA next month in South Korea. Let's start with Kimani Griffin. He is a speed skater. This will be his first Olympic Games, but he is no stranger to the bright lights and big stage or to public broadcasting. That's because Kimani Griffin, a decade ago, at 17, was featured playing classical guitar at Carnegie Hall on the PBS program "From The Top At Carnegie Hall."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FROM THE TOP AT CARNEGIE HALL")

KIMANI GRIFFIN: (Playing guitar).

MARTIN: Now he is preparing for the big trip to Pyeongchang, South Korea. We reached Kamani Griffin via Skype in Brookfield, Wis., where he is training. Welcome. Congratulations.

GRIFFIN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for reaching out and having me on your show.

MARTIN: Qualifying must be incredibly nerve wracking, but you know I have to ask was it more or less nerve-wracking than making your Carnegie Hall debut?

GRIFFIN: I think they were about the same. I actually wasn't too nervous or felt under pressure for either one of those experiences. I think in both experiences, I was just having fun kind of in my element doing what I do.

MARTIN: When did you decide to jump into speed skating or to make that your priority over music?

GRIFFIN: Spring and summer of 2008 was kind of a big turning point in my life. I was, at that time, at the top of my game in skating and - inline skating, I should say - and with guitar. I was - I had just done an NPR show in Connecticut on the radio. I had just done the Carnegie Hall concert. So I was kind of in a tough spot as far as what I wanted to do with my life - what direction and paths I wanted to take. And I ended up getting a full ride to go to school in Georgia - Columbus State University.

I really enjoyed my time there. I - but I just - I don't know - I really missed skating. I really missed the world of working out and that competitive nature. And I was just kind of, like, a 19-year-old spur of the moment - maybe I'll move to Salt Lake and see if I can go down this path. Music and sports have been my two outlets in life. So luckily, when I left school, I kind of had another passion to fall back on and, I kind of took a risk. And eight years later, here I am.

MARTIN: Just briefly for those of us who aren't as familiar with, say, speed skating as we might be with other sports, tell us a little bit about the the joy of it.

GRIFFIN: Just - I guess for the 500, you have that 34, 35 seconds of just - time essentially stops. Like, you're just in the moment. You can't hear anything. I mean, even your coach is screaming at you on the backstretch, but you can't even hear him most of the time - at least for me. And I'm just, like, so focused in every little push, every little body angle, every movement that I'm doing to propel myself forward. And then when I cross the line, all of a sudden, I hear people screaming, and I look at the clock, and hopefully it's time that I want to see.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, you know I'm going to ask this. What music do you listen to get pumped up?

GRIFFIN: Before my race, when I'm kind of in the infield in the middle of the track, I enjoy listening to Gucci Mane. That kind of pumps me up. But Gucci's my go-to guy (laughter) before I race.

MARTIN: That's Kimani Griffin. He will be representing Team USA in long track speed skating the Winter Olympics. Kimani Griffin, thank you so much for speaking with us. Good luck to you.

GRIFFIN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MALL")

GUCCI MANE: (Rapping) I crash into your wall. Tijuana Cartel man, they killed him in the car. He think he invincible, think he above the law.

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