Competing in his third Winter Olympics, Oak Park native Emery Lehman earned his first medal on Feb. 15 as part of the U.S. speedskating team pursuit unit, which finished third. | Photo by John Kleba courtesy of David Lehman

It’s been often said that the third time is a charm.

For Oak Park native Emery Lehman, that old adage came true. Participating in his third consecutive Winter Olympics, he was part of the United States men’s speedskating team pursuit unit that won a bronze medal Feb. 15 in Beijing, China. It’s the first Olympic medal for Lehman.

“We are incredibly happy to have a medal and to have put together three great races to do so,” said Lehman. “Besides the countless hours of training for this event, I think the key to our success was trusting and using each other to push ourselves. We’ve all shown great improvement because of this.”

The team pursuit is a three-round event, and Lehman teamed up with Ethan Cepuran and Casey Dawson in the first two rounds. The unit placed second to Norway (the eventual gold medalist) in the opening round, then broke the Olympic record in the second, only to see the Russian Olympic Committee team top it.

As a result, Team USA competed against the Netherlands for bronze in the final round, with veteran Joey Mantia subbing for Cepuran on the relay. The Americans defeated the Dutch with a time of 3 minutes, 38.81 seconds.

Lehman also competed in the 1,500-meter race Feb. 8, placing 11th in 1:45.78, as well as the 5,000 meters Feb. 6, finishing 16th in 6:21.80 as he filled in for Dawson, who couldn’t arrive in Beijing in time due to COVID-19 protocols.

With minimal or no attendance due to the pandemic, Lehman felt it was definitely a different atmosphere than his two previous Olympics. But he also didn’t feel any pressure.

Emery Lehman | Photo by  John Kleba courtesy of David Lehman

“To be honest, I feel much more relaxed here than I was in the six months leading up,” he said. “Obviously, this is a different Olympic experience than my other two, but I feel like getting here safe was the hardest part of the battle. In the months leading up I didn’t go anywhere but the rink or my house, wearing two masks at all times. … [Since arriving in Beijing], we still wear masks, test every day and are still very cautious, but it is a nice feeling to be in the bubble and have some sense of security.”

Lehman said he appreciates the love and support he has received from the Oak Park and River Forest communities. He says the messages he gets help him to overcome the isolated sense of living inside a bubble, and he can’t wait to come back to his hometown soon.

“It makes me proud to represent Oak Park and Team USA,” he said. “I very much look forward to coming home, sharing my medal with people, and trying to recruit some future Olympians and medalists for speedskating. I just want to thank everyone for their support.”

Lehman is planning on returning to Oak Park in April, but he has some more business to take care of before then. He’ll participate in the World All-Around Championships March 5-6 in Hamar, Norway, as well as the World Cup final on March 11-13 in Heerenveen, Netherlands. The two events, he says, are harder to qualify for than the Olympics.

And speaking of the Olympics, Lehman said he will try to make a fourth consecutive Olympic team in 2026. Those games will take place in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy — the first time two cities have served as hosts.

“Of course, the next Olympics are on my mind, but between then and now there are a lot of competitions and other achievements I would like to accomplish in the sport,” Lehman said. “My plan will be the same as it’s always been: I’ll continue to skate as long as I’m having fun and getting faster.”

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