- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - On any other Saturday, Emery Lehman would have been sound asleep.

On this day, the youngest member of the U.S. speedskating team was making his Olympic debut, competing in the 5,000 meters 10 time zones away from his suburban Chicago home.

The 17-year-old skater from Oak Park, Ill., was the top American, finishing 16th in a time of 6 minutes, 29.95 seconds.

Jonathan Kuck of Champaign, Ill., who was paired with eventual gold medalist Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, was 19th in 6:31.53. Patrick Meek of Chicago finished 20th in 6:32.94.

Lehman was paired with Denis Yuskov, the first of three Russians competing on home ice. The crowd cheered loudly and tooted horns as Yuskov quickly moved out in front.

“I got to kind of think in my head they were cheering for me,” Lehman said.

Yuskov widened his lead before Lehman began closing ground late in the 12 ½-lap race.

“I just try to keep my races more consistent,” Lehman said. “He’s usually 10-to-15 seconds ahead of me at 3k, then maybe only 8-to-10 at the finish. It was a good strategy.”

Lehman’s parents and his grandfather made the long trip to see him skate in what was the middle of the night back home.

“Hopefully my friends weren’t sleeping and they were watching,” Lehman said. “It was definitely really cool. I’ve been kind of mentally preparing for this moment ever since I made the team, so I definitely wasn’t as nervous as I usually was for big races.”

Now, Lehman has to wait until Feb. 18 to compete in his other race, the 10,000. In the meantime, he’ll mix training with doing homework.

“I found some homework on my bag in the locker room before my race so I’m glad my mom found a way to get that to me,” he said.

The high school senior is taking four classes this semester: accounting, engineering, graphic design, and sports and literature.

“Maybe they’ll be talking about me in sports and literature,” he joked.

Meek’s first Olympics began and ended on the same day since the 5,000 was his only race. The 28-year-old skated in the first of 13 pairs.

“I read that quote this morning from Jesse Owens that said if you don’t go for a medal you might as well just be doing it in your backyard,” he said. “I kind of took that to heart.”

Meek went out aggressively before falling off his pace.

Kuck nearly tripped toward the end of his race after his left skate caught the ice. The 23-year-old skater, who won a silver medal in team pursuit four years ago in Vancouver, will also compete in the 1,500.

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