Several of my favorite moments watching sports have occurred during the Olympics.
As an impressionable 10-year-old with an awakened sense of patriotism, I watched in amazement as the United States men’s hockey team shocked the previously unflappable Soviet Union 4-3 in the semifinals of the 1980 Olympics. And for trivia buffs (just in case you forgot), the Americans finished off their “Miracle on Ice” run with a business-like 4-2 win against Finland in the final.
Eric Heiden also competed at those XIII Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. The Madison, Wisconsin native won five gold medals and set four Olympic records and one world record.
He essentially introduced the average American sports fan to speed skating.
Heiden also joined the likes of Edwin Moses, Mary Lou Retton and Michael Phelps in the “Marty Farmer Power Rankings of All-Time Favorite Olympians.”
But this past Sunday, however, Emery Lehman and Dani Tyler surpassed these legends in my top two spots. They graciously joined me on “The Doris Davenport Show” with Doug Wyman that night for an exclusive 1½-hour interview.
Lehman is an Oak Park native who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Tyler grew up in River Forest and won gold in softball at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. They both graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Lehman’s meteoric rise in speed skating has been remarkable. He picked up the sport when he was 9 years old to improve his speed for hockey. Three years later, he won his first national title in speed skating.
One of the burgeoning stars in the European-dominated sport, he placed 10th in the 10,000 meters with a time of 13 minutes, 28.67 seconds and 16th in the 5,000 meters with a time of 6:29.94 at the 2014 Winter Olympics at the age of 18.
Currently training in Milwaukee with coach and two-time Olympian Jeff Klaiber, Lehman is on track to compete as the top American speed skater at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
As for Tyler, her athletic career peaked in 1996 when she earned a gold medal with the USA Softball National Team. She’s also one of the greatest softball players ever at both Drake University and OPRF. At 41, Tyler remains an excellent all-around athlete who plays golf and runs marathons.
During an extensive Q&A, Doris, Doug and I peppered our Olympic guests with questions. They talked about growing up in Oak Park and River Forest, respectively, attending OPRF, family and coaching influences, their Olympic experiences and thoughts on Rio 2016.
They’re both very bright, with Lehman studying civil engineering at Marquette and Tyler working as an accountant.
Along with Lehman and Tyler, OPRF boasts an impressive list of Olympians including Ellis Coleman (2012 wrestling), Robert Halperin (1960 yachting), Charlie Hoag (1952 gold medalist basketball), John Register (2000 Paralympics silver medalist long jump) and Becky Wilczak (luge).
Ken Sitzberger, a 1963 Fenwick grad, won the gold medal in the 3-meter springboard at the 1964 Summer Olympics.
After Sunday’s radio show, our evening together culminated with Tyler showing everybody in the studio her gold medal.
Lehman appreciated it more than any of us.