OPRF alum Emery Lehman had an eventful 2019 as he prepared for taking another shot at the Olympics. After traveling across Europe and Asia and competing against some of the greatest speedskaters in the world, Lehman is in the final stages of preparing for the Olympic Trials. 

Before he does that, Lehman is two weeks away from participating in the Four Continents Speedskating Championships in Milwaukee, Wis. at the Pettit National Ice Center. Throughout his time in high school, Lehman routinely traveled an hour and 30 minutes to Pettit to train and continues to do so while he works toward an undergraduate degree in civil engineering at Marquette University (he graduates this spring).

“It’s pretty cool that I get the opportunity to skate in an international event on my home rink,” said Lehman. “I believe this is the first time in 15 years the Pettit is hosting an international event, so I am glad I get to be a part of it.”

At the beginning of the season, Lehman skated in five marathons in the Netherlands and participated in the four fall World Cups which were in Poland, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Japan. According to Lehman, that qualified him for the World Championships. He has three competitions left this season. They include Four Continents, an event back in Calgary, and the World Championships back in Salt Lake City. Lehman describes as the competitions collectively as the “Olympics on non-Olympics years.”

At Four Continents, he will participate in the 1,000-meter event, the 5,000-meter event, and team pursuit.

“Talking with Gabriel [Girard, Lehman’s head coach] before the season, we agreed that the Olympics is the ultimate goal. [The goal] is not a marathon, the world cup, or Four Continents, which isn’t to say that event isn’t important since it will help me prepare for the Olympic Trials, which will hopefully get me to the Olympics.” 

This past year, Lehman decided to turn to Girard as his new coach after working with Eric Cepuran for two years. He spent four months in Calgary with Girard (who is from Calgary) from May through August before heading to Salt Lake City in September and October. Girard was named the head coach of the national long-distance team based in Salt Lake City, so Lehman gave up his apartment in Calgary and moved in with one of his friends in Utah to be closer with his coach.

“I wanted to try something new and get a coach’s perspective from outside of the U.S.,” said Lehman. “Not to say that what coaches in the U.S. are doing is wrong, but I wanted to see what the other coaches were doing in other countries. Gabriel has coached all over and I thought he would have a good perspective with what everyone else was doing.”

After placing 21st in the 5,000 meters in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, Lehman admits there is a certain level of wanting to redeem himself after finishing 16th at Sochi in 2014.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind where I think, ‘My first goal is to get to the Olympics,’ but past that, I want to outperform myself from the last two [Olympics],” said Lehman. “Only 24 people qualify for the Olympics, which has become very hard to do, but on the other side of that, getting 21st out of 24 is never a good feeling. I would like to improve upon that and maybe qualify in another distance.”

The year 2018 might have been a disappointment for Lehman, but he is only 23 years old and still has a lot left in the tank as he ramps up for another chance to contend in the Olympics. Having trained in the Netherlands (which Lehman says is considered the mecca of speedskating) could also elevate his chances of reaching his goal of placing higher in 2022.

Before he gets to that point, Lehman will participate in Four Continents, which will be held in Milwaukee at Petit from Jan. 31 through Feb. 2.

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