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Trials Day 1: Lehman wins 5,000 meter race, Olympic fate still in limbo

Marquette+junior+Emery+Lehman+finished+in+fourth+place+in+the+1%2C500+meter+race+Saturday+night%2C+as+he+missed+out+on+third+place+and+an+Olympic+spot+by+just+.21+seconds.+%28Photo+courtesy%3A+Emery+Lehman%29
Marquette junior Emery Lehman finished in fourth place in the 1,500 meter race Saturday night, as he missed out on third place and an Olympic spot by just .21 seconds. (Photo courtesy: Emery Lehman)

Marquette junior Emery Lehman finished in fourth place in the 1,500 meter race Saturday night, as he missed out on third place and an Olympic spot by just .21 seconds. (Photo courtesy: Emery Lehman)

Marquette junior Emery Lehman finished in fourth place in the 1,500 meter race Saturday night, as he missed out on third place and an Olympic spot by just .21 seconds. (Photo courtesy: Emery Lehman)

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Heading into Tuesday’s Long Track Olympic Trials at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Marquette junior Emery Lehman had an idea of what the winning time for the 5,000-meter race would be. “A good race for someone will be someone doing 30-second laps most of the way,” Lehman said. “I think if someone is doing 31, that won’t be the winning time.”

He hit it exactly on the head and even exceeded his own expectations, winning the 5K with a time of 6 minutes 27.90 seconds, a personal best at the Pettit Center.

A junior in the College of Engineering, Lehman was in the sixth of seven heats Tuesday. St. Louis native Ian Quinn previously had the winning time: 6:32.97.

However, Lehman knew that with a quick skating partner like Jeffrey Swider-Peltz, he could keep pace with that mark.

“(Swider-Peltz) definitely pushed the pace a little bit, which was nice because if I would have been out there out on my own without a good pair, I would have gone a little too slow in the beginning,” Lehman said. “Usually, I keep my head down until I start getting a little tired and then I look up with four or five laps to go, and that’s usually when I’m trying to start (dropping my time).”

The two were deadlocked for the first half of the race before Lehman found a second gear. His sixth lap, which started at the 2,600-meter mark, was Lehman’s fastest lap; he finished it in 30.45 seconds.

While Lehman’s time won the race and set a personal record in Milwaukee, his Olympic fate remains unclear. Lehman is the third reserve, which forces Team USA to wait on what other countries do. Canada and Poland have the first two reserve slots.

“What we wait and kind of hope to see with this is that some countries will come back and perhaps not claim some of the spots they’ve earned, and that is very common,” Chris Needham, chairman of the U.S. Speedskating long track committee said. “A lot of countries have very high standards for what their athletes need to do to compete at the Olympics, and if you haven’t met that, it doesn’t matter if you are on the list or not, you don’t get that spot.”

Lehman could also punch his ticket to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in another event or if the team does not fill its eight allotted spaces. Team USA’s success in prior international events dictated the program’s allotment.

“(Lehman) would need to get in in a different race,” Needham said. “If after this weekend, we are maxed out at eight, and Emery’s name is not on that list of eight, then he wouldn’t be able to come. If there is an open spot, we would have the ability to add him in.”

To make matters more complicated, the International Olympic Committee may ban three Russian skaters ahead of Lehman following the country’s state-sponsored doping scandal.

“We are certainly not sure (on what will happen),” Needham said. “We’ve certainly asked the question, but we have absolutely no information on it, and I wish we did because that could help us add a little bit of certainty to it.”

Regardless of what the 5,000-meter outcome may be, Lehman is skating for his Olympic life this week on his home ice.

“Everyone went in just trying to win,” Lehman said. “We are (third) reserve right now, so we are hoping that a spot will open up, but if not, we are just trying to go out there and race a good 5K.”

Lehman races Wednesday in the 1,000-meter race, Saturday in the 1,500-meter race and Sunday in the mass start.

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