Speedskater Emery Lehman, an Oak Park and River Forest High School alumnus, has been busy the last two months in preparation for what he hopes will be his third consecutive Winter Olympic Games, which takes place Feb. 4-20, 2022 in Beijing, China.
He’s skated in the last four World Cups, a series of speedskating competitions. After a solid effort in Poland, Lehman had a third-place showing in Division B of the 1,500 meters with a time of 1 minute, 47.38 seconds in Stavanger, Norway, which earned him a promotion to Division A.
Since arriving back in North America, he has raised his performance. In the World Cup held in Salt Lake City from Dec. 3-5, Lehman set new personal best times in both the 1,500 (1:43.81) and 5,000 (6:14.30) and was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. team pursuit unit that set a world record in a time of 3:34.47.
He followed that up at the World Cup in Calgary, Canada, on Dec. 10-12 with new personal-best times in the 1,500 (1:43.41, missing the podium by 0.14 seconds) and 5,000 (6:13.19), along with helping the U.S. pursuit team set an oval record in a time of 3:35.59.
“To be honest, I’ve never been in the position I’m in now, skating as fast as I am,” said Lehman from Salt Lake City, where he is training.
Lehman feels his previous Olympic experiences will help him, but adds that with the U.S. men’s pursuit considered a medal contender, it brings a different element.
“Hopefully, with this being my third Olympics, I won’t have the nerves of others in their first,” he said. “At the same time, this is the first time I’m going where we’re contenders in an event. The good news is that I’ve gone to the line with the same mentality regardless if it’s the Olympics or World Cup, so that will help if I make it to China.”
In order to give himself the best possible chances of success come February, Lehman says it’s important to continue improving technically as a skater while maintaining his health and fitness. And he’s happy to represent his hometown on the international stage.
“I’m always proud to represent Oak Park,” he said. “People are really surprised to hear how many Olympians and other successful athletes come from there. What I really like is reconnecting with people who supported me at my first Olympics. … Even though I’m out in Salt Lake City training away from family and friends, there are still people who recognize the work that I put in, even if it’s only displayed for a few minutes every four years.”
Lehman credits his success to the support he has received from not only his parents, Marcia and David, but his coach, Gabriel Gerard, and sponsors.
“I’m lucky to be surrounded by a great team and coach who motivate me and keep me in check when I need it,” he said. “I’ve also had great financial support from RC Willey and Collins Engineers, who recognize that a sport like speedskating is tough for someone to make a living in and are willing to support me through my adventures.”
For a world-class athlete like Lehman, it’s a challenge achieving life balance as he juggles his training with his personal responsibilities. And moving to Salt Lake City for training purposes wasn’t easy for him.
“It was really tough to make the decision to move out of the Midwest where all my family and friends are,” said Lehman, a Marquette University graduate. “But at the end of the day, I’m happy with it. I try to keep in touch with those close to me as much as I can, and for now, that’s good enough for me to keep going out here.”
Lehman is optimistic about the upcoming Olympics and plans to keep going for as long as possible. When his career eventually comes to an end, he wants to look back with no regrets.
“I’ve already made two Olympic teams, so now I want to solidify myself as a fast and hard-working speedskater,” he said. “This past World Cup season definitely gave me some motivation and helped me achieve a few of my goals I had, but there’s definitely more out there for me before I retire.”