Wisconsin contributes to successful Olympic speed skaters Submitted: 02/10/2014
WEST ALLIS - Winter Olympics history tells us Americans can fly on ice. Our nation's speed skaters have won more Olympic gold medals than skaters for any other country. Wisconsin plays a big part in this success story. Newswatch 12's Shardaa Gray takes us to West Allis where the Spirit of the North has driven speed skaters for decades. "It hasn't really hit me yet, but once I'm there and getting into it and being with the team; it will start to sink in." said America's youngest speed skater, Emery Lehman.

17 year old Emery Lehman from Illinois is the youngest U.S. Olympic speed skater this year. 90 years ago a young speed skater named Charles Jewtraw was the first person ever to win a gold medal in the very first Winter Olympics. Jewtraw won the 500 meter event in 1924 in Chamonix, France. Emery isn't sure if he'll make history like Jewtraw, but he does have high hopes. "My goals are probably to finish between 15th and 10th in the 5K," Emery said. "Then 10K, only 16 skaters; probably I'm going in ranked like 16th. So anything better than last at this point." Before leaving for Sochi, Lehman trained at the Pettit National Ice Center in West Allis. He has been training there since he was 14 years old. They've trained Olympians since 1992, after it was reconstructed to become an indoor facility. "The impetus behind it was to create an Olympic training site. So it had to open by the end of 1992 for political reasons within the US speed skating," said Pettit Ice Center Executive Director, Randy Dean. "The USOOC had to be open by the end of 1992 to be an official US Olympic training site." The Pettit Center replaced the outdoor 24 year old Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink. "It was right here in this very site; almost not the exact place where the oval is today, but very close. They'd tell stories of the salt blowing off the expressway, the headwinds and how cold it was," Dean said. "There wasn't any enclosed oval in the United States. So people got together here and raised some money, got some help from the state and built the Pettit Center here for about 14 million dollars." 85 speed skating medals have been won by American Olympians going into Sochi Games. Out of that number, 70 medals were won by Olympians that trained or based at the Pettit Center. Emery's mom remembers when he first put on speed skating skates. "They loaned him a pair of boats, he got on the ice, he looked at me I was standing on the bleachers, kind of shrugged his shoulders looked down at his boots and started to skate and he fell in love with it." said Emery's mother, Marcia Lehman. "He just had that intangible quality that you can see in some kids. It's like you can't really teach it. Once you see it's there to be developed." Emery's coach, Jeff Klaiber said. "It's definitely paid off now. Traveling's a lot of fun and competing is a lot of fun. It's all worth it in the end," said Emery. "Especially because I love it, it's a lot easier. It's probably a lot harder for my mom and dad who put in just as much dedication as I did, but they don't get to travel as much." Emery raced Friday; finishing 16th out of 26 races in the men's 5,000 meters, the best finish by an American. The 10K comes next Tuesday.

Story By: Shardaa Gray

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