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Breaking Records To A Velvet Underground Beat

Christian Niccum and Dan Joye at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, Canada.
Shaun Botterill
Getty Images
Christian Niccum and Dan Joye at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, Canada.

Weekends on All Things Considered continues its "Why Music Matters" series with Olympic luger Christian Niccum. Niccum says music was the key to one of his first accomplishments in the sport.

"I was 15 years old, in Berchtesgaden in Germany," he says. "It's the oldest artificial luge track in the world, and it's also the most difficult."

Daunted by the course's many sharp turns, Niccum turned to something borrowed for inspiration.

"My coach said that there's a rhythm that you have to catch — you have to be in the rhythm of the track," Niccum says. "At that time, I had a lot of mix tapes that I stole from my brother that I was playing in my Walkman, and one song had a special influence over me. The way it felt to me was just total peace and total relaxation and total focus."

That song was "Heroin," from The Velvet Underground's 1967 debut. Niccum says he was so wrapped up in it that he didn't notice what he had achieved.

"I didn't recognize what I did until I heard my other teammates — they watched the run — came up to me," he says. "Ultimately, I ended up breaking the track record and getting the fastest time ever down on this track."

"Why Music Matters" is produced by Anna Boiko-Weyrauch with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, in collaboration with the Association of Independents in Radio and KEXP-FM in Seattle.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.