I think so far the whole season has been going in a positive direction. —U.S. speedskater Emery Lehman
KEARNS — Emery Lehman didn't take up speedskating because he thought he could compete against the world's best.
After noticing a flier while attending a hockey clinic, he signed up simply hoping it would help him improve his hockey speed.
"I didn't think I'd be competitive at all," said the 16-year-old Illinois native. "But after a year or two, I figured I was a lot better at it, and it was a lot more fun."
Thursday must have been pretty enjoyable for the high school junior as he bested the men he's looked up to since he started competing in his favorite event — the 5,000-meter race.
"It's definitely (intimidating), especially because a lot of them I looked up to when I was younger," said Lehman, who won the 5,000-meter race with a personal best of 6:27.06. "Now I'm competing against them, so it feels really weird."
And Thursday he didn't just compete, he won.
"I never thought that would happen," he said, smiling shyly.
He skated with Olympian Jonathan Kuck, edging him by .08 of a second. Kuck, who won a silver medal in the team pursuit in the 2010 Games, earned silver in Thursday's event. Patrick Meek was third with a time of 6:30.39.
The victory was the biggest in Lehman's short career.
"This was by far my best race," he said. "I think so far the whole season has been going in a positive direction."
He finished second in the 5,000 two months ago, which gave him his spot on the World Cup team. Competing against the world's best speedskaters has been an education that he believes will only make him a better skater.
Meek was on pace to win the event as one of the last two skaters, but then fell behind on the penultimate lap.
"I was on pace to win until two to go and then it definitely felt like a bear jumped on my back at that point," he said.
Meek believes the drop in temperatures affected all of the skaters. "I think we're all realizing we have to be more conservative than what we were all expecting," he said. "I was still pleased with the race. Anytime you qualify for the World Cup team, you feel good."
The 27-year-old said he didn't compete as well as he thought he would in the first half of the World Cup circuit, but the last few weeks of training have gone well.
"I was trying to do almost too much, as far as my technique," he said. "I got back to basics a little bit. I had a really good month of training, and I was able to fix some things technically that I think will help me in the latter part of the season."
On the women's side, Jilleanne Rookard won the 3,000-meter race with a time of 4:11.88, while Maria Lamb was second with a time of 4:12.61. Petra Acker was third with a time of 4:13.94.
Both men and women compete in two different heats of the 500-meter race on Friday beginning at 9 a.m. The races are free and open to the public.