Good things come to those who wait.
United States speedskater and Oak Park native Emery Lehman’s patience certainly paid off after the completion of the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating trials at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee (Jan. 2-7).
After recording a first, pair of fourth and seventh-place finishes at the five-day event, Lehman wasn’t initially named to the U.S. team. After the conclusion of the final race (mass start), however, Lehman was notified he made the Olympics as a team pursuit specialist.
Talk about a close call.
“I’ve been on pins and needles,” Lehman said. “You never really know until the weekend is over, especially with how racing goes. I knew I still had to come out and race really well, I had to leave it up to US Speedskating to make the decision.”
Lehman will be competing in the Olympics for a second time. Previously, he skated in the 5000 and 10000-meter races in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
“It’s awesome (making the Olympics),” Lehman said. “Definitely better the second time around than the first time around. The first time around is awesome, but the second time around is a lot harder and longer of a road, a lot more ups and downs.”
Along with Lehman, Jonathan Garcia, Kimani Griffin, Joey Mantia, Mitchell Whitmore, Shani Davis and Brian Hansen comprise the men’s team.
Lehman will enjoy a much-needed week off from competition before the Americans return for a two-week training block at the Pettit National Ice Center (Jan. 15-30).
The 2018 Winter Olympics Games will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea from Feb. 9-25. The long-track speedskating races will be held at the Gangneung Oval.
Lehman opened the U.S. Olympic Trials in auspicious fashion. He finished first in the 5000 with a time of 6 minutes, 27.90 seconds. Lehman’s time was a personal-best at the PettitNationalIceCenter where he trains and coaches regularly.
“I just wanted to go out there and skate technically-well and have a good race,” Lehman said. “I think that happened for the most part.”
Despite his victory, the U.S. didn’t qualify a spot in the 5000 through World Cup competition. Instead, the U.S. squad has second priority and third reserve in the event at the Olympics. For a spot to become available, other countries must decide to not enter their skaters.
“I think everyone went into today just trying to win and hoping that, we are second priority right now, so hoping a spot will open up (in the Olympics),” Lehman said after the 5000 race. “If not, I just wanted to race a good 5k. I’m just taking it one week at a time. Whether I skate at the Olympics in this race or not, isn’t in my hands.”
Quinn placed second (6:32.95) and Jeffrey Swider-Peltz (6:34.18) was third in the 5000. Four-time Olympian and speedskating elder statesman KC Boutiette, 47, came in fourth with a time of 6:47.02.
“My pair with Jeffrey [Swider-Peltz] was a good pair. He pushed the pace a bit which was nice because if I had been on my own without a good pair I would have been too slow in the beginning,” Lehman said. “I usually just keep my head down until I start getting tired. I look up with four or five laps to go and then I try to drop it.”
In the other races at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Lehman placed fourth in both the 1500 (1:47.37) and mass start (8:00.04; 20 points). He was seventh in the 1000 with a time of 1:10.90.
The mass start is vastly different from the other races. It starts with as many as 24 skaters who line up and start together. Then they race over 16 laps to the finish. During this race there are four intermediate sprints, including one at the end. The top three finishers in these sprints get points, as do the top three skaters at the finish line. Consequently, the top three finishers earn podium spots, with the rest of the standings determined on the sprint points.
With jockeying, bumping, drafting and lots of tactical strategy involved on the oval, Mantia describes the mass start as “Nascar on ice.”
Aside from extensive time spent in training, Lehman, 21, is studying civil engineering at MarquetteUniversity.
Although the U.S. Olympic Trials were stressful at times, at least Lehman took in the experience on home ice.
“The Pettit put up a great meet,” Lehman said about the U.S. Olympic Trials. “I’ve been training here and they treat me really well. It’s a really nice place to train, especially being only 15 minutes away from Marquette. I can go to school, train and live a normal life.”
Of course, his studies will be put on hold as Lehman’s sole focus is Pyeongchang.
At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the precocious Lehman performed well, placing 16th in the 5000 meters with a time of 6:29.94 seconds and later placed 10th in the 10000 meters with a time of 13:28.67 as the youngest male in the U.S. delegation and youngest speed skater from any country at the Olympics. After the games, he competed at the World Junior Championships in Finland.
“I thought I did really especially with the all the controversy [about the U.S. speed skaters suits],” Lehman said about his first Olympic experience. “I just focused on my race, did my thing and everything worked out pretty well. When I look back on the overall experience sometimes it hard to believe it happened, but I have so many great memories.”
Lehman comes from an athletic family. His older brother, Graham, is an OPRF grad who played soccer and tennis in high school. He then attended LehighUniversity and walked on to the tennis team. Their parents, Marcia and David, supported both of the boys in their pursuit of various sports.
A 2014 OPRF graduate, Emery Lehman played lacrosse and hockey in addition to his speedskating training. That year, he won the inaugural Wednesday Journal Male Athlete of the Year.
“I definitely didn’t expect the award,” Lehman said. “When you think of all the great athletes at OPRF who go on to play college sports, guys like Simmie Cobbs, Davonte Mahomes and Jamal Baggett let alone incredible athletes like Robert Spillane and Danny Dwyer at Fenwick, I know all of those guys are more athletic than me. It’s an honor and I’m very thankful to be chosen.”
Although the decision came down to the wire, Lehman is also honored and thankful to be chosen an Olympian…again.