WHISTLER, British Columbia — Luger Christian Niccum slid into the finish area at Whistler Sliding Centre with his best Olympic finish Wednesday night, but all he could think about was his family.
"It was hard to see them up there (in the crowd)," Niccum, 32, of Woodinville, Wash., said after sliding to a sixth-place finish with partner Dan Joye in Wednesday's luge doubles competition, won by Andreas and Wolfgang Linger of Germany.
Wrapped in an American flag, partially to keep warm on the coldest night so far at the Olympics, Niccum was still searching for wife Bobbie Joe and their young daughter long after he climbed off his sled.
"I'm still looking for a hug and a kiss," he said.
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Niccum and Joye's two-race total of 1 minute, 23.291 seconds was the top finish for an American pair. Fellow veteran U.S. sliders Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin finished 13th, at 1:24.005.
While they came to the 2010 Winter Olympics in search of a medal, Niccum and Joye said competing in front of friends and family — many of whom had never seen a live luge race — was a dream realized.
They also can take solace in one major accomplishment: They finished ahead of the top Canadian team, Chris and Mike Moffat, who like all Canadian sliders had a serious home-court advantage because of extended training time on the track.
The doubles luge event, like all sliding events here, played out under the cloud of grief for a Georgian singles luger who died in a training accident Friday. In the wake of that crash, officials moved men's events to the lower, women's start, partially to slow speeds on the world's fastest sliding track.
Niccum said that switch was appropriate — not so much for safety, but out of respect for Nodar Kamaritashvili, the dead slider.
"It's a respectful thing to do," Niccum said. "It's like, you put the flag at half mast. It shows respect for the situation, to what happened."
Niccum's focus on family likely will be key to his sliding future.
Both he and Joye say they still have competitive fire, but also have young families at home. Luge doesn't offer much in the way of financial support for American athletes. For much of the time he trained for Vancouver, Niccum's family lived with his parents in suburban Seattle.
Niccum, who has been a luge slider since he was a teen, says he has stayed in the sport as long as he has mostly because he still loves the childlike thrill of sliding down mountains on a sled.
"The snow's got to melt someday," he said, then explained: "When you're in grade school and it snows too much, school's out, so you go sledding.
"Well, school's been out for a long time for us. Maybe it's coming (time) that we've got to go back to school. The dream's got to end at some point."
Niccum competed as a singles slider in the 2006 Turin Games, where he finished 23rd.