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Olympic Luge Hopeful Hurtles Toward the Finish

Patrick Quinn and his 2-year-old daughter Alaina outside the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Tom Goldman, NPR
Patrick Quinn and his 2-year-old daughter Alaina outside the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York.

It is less than three months before the Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and Patrick Quinn is closer than he has ever been to achieving his Olympic dream.

The 39-year-old Quinn is married and a father. He has twice before tried to qualify for the Olympics -- in speed skating -- and failed. Now he's turned his attention to the luge event.

In luge, riders lay on small sleds and hurtle down an icy track at speeds that can reach 80 mph.

Quinn is a serious winter sportsman, having been at various times a college hockey player, cross-country skier and competitive speed skater. It was his failure to qualify for the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games that lead him to luge.

Now he's looking to get to Turin with the doubles luge, partnering with 27-year-old Christian Niccum, a four-time world junior champion in the sport.

Doubles luge requires one racer to lie directly on top of the other. In this team it is the 200-pound Niccum whose weight presses down on Quinn.

Luge is a sport of slight body movements. A hand squeeze or a head turn can make the speeding sled change direction. The top person in doubles luge is usually the one steering. Niccum likens it to dancing.

From now until the middle of next month, Quinn and Niccum will compete with another American luge pair for a spot in the Turn Olympics. Five World Cup races will determine who goes.

Last week, while training for the second of the five races, Quinn and Niccum crashed. Niccum suffered a serious concussion and it kept them from racing last weekend.

They don't know if they will compete in this weekend's World Cup event -- but Quinn says they are not giving up their Olympic dream.

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Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on
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