With 5K In The Books, Speedskaters Cepuran And Lehman Turn To Team Pursuit

by Lynn Rutherford

Emery Lehman looks on during a speedskating practice session ahead of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Jan. 31, 2022 in Beijing.


BEIJING — On Sunday at Beijing’s National Speed Skating Oval, better known as the Ice Ribbon, Team USA’s Ethan Cepuran and Emery Lehman competed in the men’s 5,000-meters. For Cepuran, it was his first race at an Olympic Winter Games. For Lehman, a three-time Olympian, it was his fifth.
“He’s the master, I’m the apprentice,” Cepuran, a 21-year-old from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, said of his fellow Midwesterner.
“I have the utmost respect for him as an athlete, seeing what he has gone through and coming back (after a season off). I’m honored to call him a teammate. … I’m skating with one of my heroes as a kid, and it’s just super cool.”
So, what is Lehman’s best piece of advice so far?
“(To) just relax,” Cepuran said with a laugh. “I told him this morning, ‘Oh, I’m kind of nervous.’ And he was like, ‘Why?’ And I was, ‘Well, it’s the Olympics.’”
Lehman finished 16th, with a time of 6:21.80. Cepuran was 17th, clocking in at 6:25.97.
Sweden’s Nils van der Poel won gold with 6:08.84, a new Olympic record. Patrick Roest of the Netherlands claimed silver (6:09.31) while Norway’s Hallgeir Engebraaten took bronze (6:09.88). 
Both members of Team USA left the ice satisfied with their efforts.
“It was good, it was my Olympic best by eight seconds, so I’m glad about that,” Lehman, 25, said. He was 16th in the 5,000-meters in Sochi and 21st in PyeongChang.
“(For my) first Olympic race, I couldn’t be much happier,” Cepuran said. “I gave it all I had. The time wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a solid race. I was strong at the end, and I couldn’t ask for much more.”
Cepuran and Lehman, along with fellow Team USA skaters Joey Mantia and Casey Dawson, form a tightknit group. All train in Salt Lake City under Gabriel Girard, U.S. Speedskating’s head coach.
When Dawson couldn’t fulfill COVID-19 protocols in time to make it to Beijing to compete, Lehman — who placed third behind Cepuran and Dawson in the 5,000-meters at the Olympic Trials — stepped up.
“Four or five days ago, we were in practice and (found out) Casey wasn’t going to be able to make it in time,” Lehman, who hails from Oak Park, Illinois, said. “So, my focus shifted from the 1,500-meters to 5K. The 1,500 is in two days, so it’s a quick turnaround, but getting to do this was nice. I skated a 5K at two Olympics, so it’s nice to be able to have one race I’ve done at all three Olympics.”
In Sochi, Lehman was just 17, the youngest-ever male speedskater for Team USA at the Olympics. He notes qualifying for an Olympic race gets harder every four years. In Sochi, 26 men competed in the 5,000-meters; here, just 20 took part.
“When you’re 17, you take things for granted — you’re a kid, just doing what you’re told,” he said. “When you’re 25, you have to kind of think for yourself a little more, figure things out, communicate a lot more with your coach. It makes me appreciate it a lot more, being able to have this opportunity.”
Lehman took the 2019-20 season off to complete his undergraduate civil engineering studies at Marquette University. Since moving to Salt Lake City in the spring of 2020, his love of training has only grown stronger.
“I have a really good team now, a really good coach,” he said. “It’s nice to have people next to me now, rather than doing it alone, wondering what’s going to happen and what my competition is doing.”

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Ethan Cepuran skates during the men's 5000-meter race during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 6, 2022 in Beijing.


Cepuran agrees, adding that over the past year, he, Lehman, Mantia and Dawson have shifted to a team dynamic.
“We support each other whenever we can, all the time, day in and day out,” he said. “It’s not good enough to be best in the country, we’re now aiming toward being the best in the world. If everybody lifts each other up, everybody gains from it. If you push the people down around you, you don’t get any higher yourself.”
The four skaters have medal hopes for the team pursuit event, which kicks off with the quarterfinals on Feb. 13. The semifinals and final are on Feb. 15.
At the Salt Lake City World Cup in early December, the trio of Mantia, Lehman and Dawson won team pursuit gold with a world record time of 3:34.47. Dawson, Lehman and Cepuran also raced to first place at a world cup one later in Calgary, Alberta.
“To be honest, for me, Ethan and Casey, TP is our main goal,” Lehman said. “(Mantia) can medal in three, maybe four events here, but the three of us, our goal is to walk away with a TP medal, so we are all looking forward to that event.”
Mantia is a three-time Olympian and is the reigning world champion in the mass start event.
It is still uncertain whether Dawson will be able to join the other three in time to take part. The 21-year-old from Park City, Utah, has been training at the Utah Olympic Oval as he works to get clearance to travel to China following a positive test three weeks ago. The Beijing Games would be his first Olympics.
“He is still in Salt Lake, we’re hoping he will be here soon,” Cepuran said. “We know he’s feeling strong, he’s feeling great, and we’re trying to make sure when he gets here.”
With three skaters competing in each race, having four athletes available for the team pursuit opens the door for strategic swaps that would allow Team USA to have a set of fresh legs in a race. But if Dawson can’t make it in time, the others are prepared to step up.
“We have the luxury of being able to do the team pursuit with anyone,” Lehman said. “If I get injured, we can do it with Casey. If Joey didn’t want to do it, we could do it with us three. So, all four are interchangeable, but at the same time our strength comes with our numbers. … Having all four of us is really the key.”

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.