While most high school seniors are busy attending classes, playing sports, lining up a date for prom and planning for college, Oak Park and River Forest High School senior Emery Lehman has more pressing matters at hand, or more specifically, on his ice skates. The 17-year-old Oak Parker earned an Olympic berth in a couple of speedskating events by pulling out a dramatic comeback victory over Jonathan Kuck in the 10,000 meters (the last and longest race of the U.S. speedskating trials) and also finishing second behind Kuck in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials in Kearns, Utah.
In the 10,000, 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.
“That was pretty insane,” Lehman told the Associated Press after his rousing win. “First of all, I didn’t expect to be finishing anywhere close to Jonathan. I never quite died, I guess.”
Lehman also skated a time of 6 minutes, 25.72 seconds in the 5,000 race, trailing only Kuck (6:19.75) to earn second place. Patrick Meek (6:27.90) joins Lehman and Kuck to comprise the U.S. men’s speedskating team.
Leading into the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials, Lehman had been tearing up the ice after setting a U.S. Junior record in the 5,000 with a time of 6:20.57 at the World Cup hosted in Calgary on Nov. 10.
“Initially, I struggled with pacing so I had issues sticking to my race schedule,” Lehman told usspeedskating.org after the memorable race. “But with four laps to go I felt like I had enough energy to build down. I’m extremely satisfied with my new Junior National Record.”
The following week, he broke his own record by posting a time of 6:19.96 in Salt Lake City.
Lehman, an obviously dedicated and talented world-class athlete, also enjoys playing hockey as a defenseman. In the spring, he’s a midfielder on the OPRF lacrosse team.
“I just still can’t believe,” Lehman told the Associated Press about his Olympic berth in multiple races. “It probably won’t hit me for a few days. I came here expecting hopefully one race, and now I’ve got two. It’s pretty exciting.”
Lehman’s the latest standout in a recent line of notable OPRF athletes including Iman Shumpert, a guard for the New York Knicks, and Ellis Coleman, a 2012 Olympian in wrestling. Dani Tyler, another OPRF alum and former Olympian, starred for the Huskies in softball before joining USA’s gold medal winning softball team at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
For the precocious Lehman, it’s full speed ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia (Feb. 7-23). The OPRF senior will be in town till January 20 before heading out to prepare for and then compete in the Winter Olympics.
In a previous Wednesday Journal feature (Feb. 21, 2012), Lehman acknowledged his life is unequivocally unique.
“I realize it’s not the normal life of a 15-year-old, but I understand that and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I like staying busy. I like what I’m doing. I like the direction I’m headed.”
Added his proud mother, Marcia: “He loves to skate. I always said he was born with blades on his feet.”
Brad Spencer contributed to this story.