Emery Lehman rallies for trials win
KEARNS, Utah -- Emery Lehman will be heading back to high school in a few days.
He's going to need a lot of time off in February.
The 17-year-old from suburban Chicago earned a second Olympic event with a thrilling victory over Jonathan Kuck in the 10,000 meters Wednesday, the final race of the U.S. speedskating trials.
Kuck, who finished eighth in the 10,000 at the Vancouver Games and was thought to have an outside shot at medaling in Sochi, won't even get to skate the race after Lehman rallied at the end to win by a scant 0.07 seconds, a remarkably close margin after 25 laps around the big oval.
"That was pretty insane," said Lehman, a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill.
Lehman was about 4 seconds behind with three laps to go, but he turned on the speed and began closing the gap quickly. As the bell rang for the final lap, Lehman stormed ahead from the inside lane as the crowd at the Utah Olympic Oval roared, not used to seeing such a dramatic finish in speedskating's longest event.
The skaters switched over on the backstretch, and Kuck surged to the front coming off the final turn. But Lehman, with a hand on one knee and the other arm swinging furiously, chased down Kuck on the final straightaway and stuck his right skate over the line, about two blades lengths ahead of Kuck.
The youngster stuck a finger in the air, confident he had won even before the winning time of 13 minutes, 22.77 seconds was posted on the scoreboard.
"First of all, I didn't expect to be finishing anywhere close to Jonathan," said Lehman, who knocked 7 seconds off his personal best. "I never quite died, I guess."
In the final women's race, Maria Lamb earned her third trip to the Olympics with a victory in the 5,000. The 27-year-old Wisconsin native dominated the 11-skater field with a time of 7:13.31 -- more than 7 seconds ahead of runner-up Petra Acker.
Lamb overcame breathing problems and a severe migraine that sent her to a hospital emergency room two days earlier. Now, she's headed back to the Olympics after also competing at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.
"It was a little bit scary," Lamb said of her health issues. "I'm just so happy I made it."
Theresa Cliff-Ryan had hoped to compete in the 5,000 -- just two days after a training mishap left her with a concussion and severe facial injuries.
After failing to pass a concussion test, she heeded the doctor's advice not to skate.
"I was hoping I had a shot," said Cliff-Ryan, who lost two teeth and fractured another when she fell on her face after being taken out by a crashing skater during a training session. "It's just a bad accident. I'm pretty bummed I didn't get to skate."
Late Wednesday, U.S. Speedskating confirmed a 17-member long track team for Sochi led by two-time gold medalist Shani Davis and top medal contenders Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe. In all, there are eight previous Olympians and nine first-timers.
Lehman's victory in the 10,000 wasn't assured, even as he coasted around the practice lane, his suit unzipped, waving to the crowd and soaking up the cheers.
There was still one more pairing to go, and Patrick Meek gave it quite an effort. Nearly lapping the other skater in his group, Edwin Park, Meek was less than a second off Lehman's pace heading into the final lap but couldn't match the teenager's closing speed. Meek settled for third in 13:23.16 -- the top three separated by a mere 0.39.
Meek collapsed onto a padded bench after finishing the race, his back heaving as he tried desperately to take it as much air as possible.
"It was pretty nerve-racking to watch," said Lehman, who kept up with the final pairing from the infield, decked out in a Chicago Blackhawks cap. "But it all ended up OK."
Only the winner will get to skate the race in the Olympics, though both Kuck and Meek could console themselves with knowing they already had earned spots on the Olympic team: Kuck in the 1,500, 5,000 and most likely the team pursuit; Meek in the 5,000.
Lehman also has claimed a trip to Sochi as the runner-up in the 5,000, but now he'll be much busier than expected.
"I came here expecting hopefully one race, and now I've got two," he said. "It's pretty exciting."
He whipped out his smartphone and began snapping pictures before heading to the top step of the medal stand, where he sprayed a bottle of champagne that he's still far too young to drink. He'll head back to school next week for the start of the new semester, needing to talk with his instructors about making up the assignments he'll miss while in Sochi.
"Hopefully, my teachers were watching TV," he said, breaking into a big smile, "and they'll understand."