Lehman thinks new skin suits could make big difference for Team USA


Emery Lehman skates at the latest International Skating Union World Cup in Salt Lake City. Lehman achieved his personal best in the 5K race (photo courtesy: Emery Lehman).

Emery Lehman, a junior in the College of Engineering will start his Olympic journey in just five days. He and his fellow Team USA teammates are under pressure to get back to the podium for the first time since 2010, and skin suits could play a part in getting back to winning medals again.

The Oak Park, Illinois native will first compete in the 5K on Sunday, Feb. 11. The Team Pursuit qualifiers are a week later on Feb. 18 and the finals are Wednesday, Feb. 21.

American long track speedskating has long been a model of consistency except for 2014, when they failed to win any medals in the Sochi Olympics for the first time since 1984. It was a significant downgrade from four medals in Vancouver in 2010 and seven in Turin in 2006.

One potential reason for the lack of medals was the skater’s skin suits, Mach 39, which were designed by Under Armour and U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, had numerous flaws. Designers placed a large vent to let athletes bodies breathe and divert air drag. Instead, athletes claimed the vent allowed too much air to get in, which made for the slower times.

The suit almost acted like a vacuum instead of an aide. What was heralded as the fastest suit ever designed ultimately hindered Team USA’s performance.

The organization went with Under Armour for the suit’s design again despite the controversy. This Olympics, there is no vent and every detail about the skin suit came under question. Lehman noticed a difference in the team since they have been using the new suit since the Olympic Trials.

“We got to race in them this past week in Milwaukee, and everyone skated really fast,” Lehman said. “Mitch (Whitmore) broke the national record in the 500 (meters). I skated only three seconds slower than I did at the Olympic Trials in the 5K, but I was also in the middle of a very hard training week so that was pretty expected.”

Mantia concurs with Lehman that the suits won’t be a problem this time around. “I think we have fixed every problem we had in Sochi,” Mantia said. “And now, at this point, it’s up to us.”

With his normal trainer Eric Cepuran not making the trip to South Korea, Lehman will have a different coach in Pyeongchang. His new trainer Tom Cushman has aided Lehman since he moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I’ll be a little bit outside my comfort zone, but it is better than having something completely new,” Lehman said. “It will just be email and video review from here on out (with Cepuran), and that’s nothing new for either one of us.”

As the team adjusts to training in South Korea, Lehman and his teammates are approaching the Olympics as a moment of redemption.

“We’ve got some really strong skaters,” Lehman said. “There’s a lot of medals that could be won with us, and it’s just in our hands to kind of take it now.”

One month ago, Lehman thought he missed his chance in the U.S. Speedskating Trials. Now he’s prepared to skate for a gold medal.

“I am really excited,” Lehman said. “I know that I can’t get too excited, but also get too relaxed. I am going in trying to be extraordinary.”