SOCHI, Russia — When he anchors the final leg in the team relay Thursday, American luger Christian Niccum will most likely be taking his final run.
After more than two decades of hurling himself down an icy track at speeds topping 80 mph, Niccum intends to retire from the sport and build a more conventional life for his wife and three children. The three-time Olympian says he wants to get a traditional job, one that allows him to support his family instead of the other way around.
"It's their turn to be the stars," he said.
Niccum, 36, spoke about his retirement plans after finishing 11th with Jayson Terdiman in the doubles competition Wednesday at the Sanki Sliding Center. As the top-finishing American pair, they earned a spot on the U.S. team that will compete in the luge relay's Olympic debut Thursday.
Reigning world champions Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany won the doubles event, besting Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger by half a second. Latvian siblings Andris and Juris Sics won bronze.
Americans Matthew Mortensen and Preston Griffall finished 14th after a major mistake on the track's fifth curve during their second run. A crestfallen Griffall, 29, also announced his likely retirement after the race, saying he plans to finish his education and possibly open a gym in Salt Lake City.
"I am probably done with this sport," the two-time Olympian said. "I don't think this is the sport for me. Even though my body feels fit."
Few world-class athletes lead less glamorous lives than American lugers, who train in obscurity for years and receive little financial reward. In the 2006 Turin Games, Niccum was 23rd in singles and at the 2010 Vancouver Games, he was sixth in doubles.
Niccum first considered retiring in 2008, after growing tired of juggling his practice schedule with his job as a human resources manager at a nursing home and a side gig selling commercial truck tires.
His wife, Bobby Jo, persuaded him to stay in the sport so he could compete in the Vancouver Games. To make that dream financially possible, she moved in with his parents while he trained in Lake Placid, N.Y. She still lives there with their three children, ages 5, 2 and 1.
Niccum, who lives in Woodinville, Wash., during the off-season, has not seen his family since Jan. 1. He does video chats with them twice a day, but the long separations weigh heavily on him.
He knows his children enjoy living with his parents and like watching him compete when they can. Still, he can't help but worry how his long absences have affected them.
"I hope it's a good experience for them," he said. "Was it the right thing? I don't know. I don't know. I hope so for their sakes."
He looks forward to not having to agonize about it anymore.
"To hold on to your kids every day is a blessing," he said. "It's just the greatest thing."