By Marty Farmer
Oak Park and River Forest High School senior and first-time Olympian Emery Lehman finished 10th out of 16 speedskaters in the men's 10,000 meter race on Tuesday at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Aside from his better-than-expected 10th place finish in his sport's longest race, Lehman did a remarkable job simply finishing the exhausting race. After circling 25 laps in the 10,000, Lehman felt nauseous and lowered his head to use a red pail bucket known as the "vomit bin."
"I've never really thrown up after a race," said the 17-year-old in an interview with the Associated Press,"but might as well do it at the Olympics. It was quite the fight at the end."
To paraphrase a common sports cliche', apparently the pain was worth the gain for Lehman. Even though he estimates that he had only skated the 10,000 meters race six or seven times previously, he finished the race in 13 minutes and 28.67 seconds. During the first weekend of the Olympics, he placed 16th in the 5,000 meter race in his Olympic race debut.
The 10,000 race caps off an incredible Winter Olympics experience for the Oak Park native. Lehman, 17, is the youngest U.S. male athlete in Sochi. Prior to the 10,000, Lehman finished 16th in the 5,000 meters race in speedskating. He completed his that race in 6 minutes, 29.94 seconds (the best U.S. result) in the 12 ½ lap race. His parents, Dave and Marcia, older brother, Graham, and grandfather, Don, supported Lehman in Sochi, along with countless well-wishers back home in Oak Park.
"Hopefully my friends weren't sleeping and they were watching," Lehman told the Associated Press about his 5,000 race. "It was definitely really cool. I've been kind of mentally preparing for this moment ever since I made the team, so I definitely wasn't as nervous as I usually was for big races."
Video courtesy of NBC Chicago
When he wasn't competing on the Olympic oval, Lehman put in training time and soaked up the Olympic experience while also keeping up with his homework. Lehman, a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan, also attended the U.S. victory over Russia in hockey and enjoyed watching Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane in action. 10 players from the Blackhawks are competing at the Winter Olympics, notably Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp (Canada), Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson (Sweden) and Marian Hossa (Slovakia).
As for the time away from school, Marcia Lehman said her son gets tremendous support from the OPRF High School faculty, including his counselor Heidi Lynch.
"Everyone has been phenomenal. They're giving him all his assignments ahead of time, and also he's a good student and knows what he has to do," she said of her son, who has aspirations of becoming an engineer. "He'll be doing school work while he's in the Olympic Village."
During the 5,000 race, fellow American speed skaters Jonathan Kuck finished 19th (6:31.53) and Patrick Meek took 20th (6:32.94) in the 5,000. The Netherlands' Sven Kramer won the Gold Medal in the 5,000 with a time of 6:10.76. Lehman was paired with Russian Denis Yuskov during his time on the oval.
Lehman, earned his Olympic berth in memorable fashion by pulling out a dramatic comeback victory over Kuck in the 10,000 meters and also finishing second behind Kuck in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials in Kearns, Utah on Dec. 18, 2013
In that unforgettable 10,000 race at the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials, Lehman recorded a personal-best time of 13 minutes, 22.77 seconds to edge Kuck by just 0.07 seconds in the 25-lap race. Trailing Kuck in the closing moments, Lehman surged ahead from the inside lane in the final lap to squeak by Kuck in an incredibly close race at the Utah Olympic Oval. The margin of Lehman's victory: approximately a couple of blade lengths.
Prior to the Olympics, Lehman trained regularly at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee with his coach and two-time Olympian Jeff Klaiber. Klaiber is coaching Lehman at the Winter Olympics as well and has served as an invaluable aide in fostering Lehman's development.
Looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Lehman very likely could be a medal contender if he opts to compete again and continue his rapid development as one of the world's best speedskaters.
Dan Jansen, a former Olympic gold medalist in speedskating, has already labeled the precocious Lehman as the "future of distance skating in the United States."
Aside from speedskating, Lehman also is an excellent hockey and lacrosse at OPRF. Athletic talent runs in the family as well, with older brother, Graham, a former tennis standout at OPRF now playing college tennis at Lehigh.
Ashley Lisenby and Brad Spencer contributed to this story.