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Five Reasons Why The U.S. Men’s Squad Likes Its Medal Chances In Team Pursuit

By Lynn Rutherford | Feb. 14, 2022, 10:05 p.m. (ET)

Team USA with Casey Dawson, Ethan Cepuran and Emery Lehman skate during the men's team pursuit quarterfinals during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 13, 2022 in Beijing.

 

BEIJING — On Sunday at the “Ice Ribbon,” Team USA’s Ethan Cepuran, Emery Lehman and Casey Dawson laid down the gauntlet.

Skating in the third quarterfinal of the speedskating team pursuit at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, the trio notched the second-fastest time of the day: 3:37.51, just four hundredths of a second behind powerhouse Norway, the Olympic record holder.

“Our strength is not only in the three of us, but it’s in all four of us,” Cepuran, 21, said, including Joey Mantia in the group. “We’re a team. We train together every single day. We’re not three of the strongest skaters in the world, but together, we are one of the strongest teams in the world, and we saw that today.”

Cepuran, along with Lehman and Mantia, heaved sighs of relief when Dawson finally arrived in Beijing on Feb. 7, after complying with COVID-19 protocols.

The 21-year-old from Park City, Utah, competed in the 1,500-meter just 13 hours after touching down in Beijing, fueled by “pure adrenaline.” He raced in borrowed blades; his bags did not arrive on the same flight. Luckily, they resurfaced prior to the quarterfinal.

“I finally got my blades back, I got some new clothes on me, so I’m ready to go for these upcoming races,” Dawson said. “The (quarterfinal) race felt fine. I felt really connected with my team, I’m getting (used to) skating on this ice, and just getting ready for the semis and the finals coming up on Tuesday.”

Since team pursuit was added to the Winter Games in 2006, the U.S. men have won a single medal, silver in 2010. Here are five reasons why Cepuran, Lehman, Dawson and Mantia like their chances to claim another one on Tuesday:

They Have The Strategy

In early December, the U.S. team of Mantia, Lehman and Dawson set a world record (3:34.47) for the eight-lap, 3,200-meter race at the world cup in Salt Lake City. They did it by “pushing” — having the same skater remain in front for all eight laps, while his two teammates pushing him forward.

“Obviously, it’s about being able to lift each other up,” Cepuran said. “We just mimic each other. Emery can skate behind Casey, and know exactly when he is going to push, when he is going to lay back. I can follow Emery, and three skaters look like one, and we just become one unit instead of three individual units out there.”

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Olympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.

Casey Dawson skates during the men's team pursuit quarterfinals during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 13, 2022 in Beijing.

 

They Have The Flexibility


With four potential team members, rather than three, Team USA has options other countries do not. Mantia, a three-time world champion in the mass start, is an individual medal contender in at least two events in Beijing, while the others view the team pursuit as their best bet for a podium spot. As such, three-time Olympian Mantia can hop in and out of the event, skating at the front of the three-man train and providing fresh legs as needed.

The Americans do not know yet which skaters will compete in the semifinals and final on Tuesday.

“That’s something we have to work out,” Cepuran said. “We’ve already started talking about it. (The quarterfinal) was a game-day decision, and two days from now, we have no idea how we are going to be feeling, so … we’ve done it every order, every combination of us. So just who feels the best that day in the morning and then have a fresh set of legs in the final.”

 

They Train To The Max


Cepuran, Lehman and Dawson train together daily in Salt Lake City, while Mantia often trains on his own, giving him the opportunity to watch his teammates. 

“I have a lot of faith in these guys, I’ve seen them work together day in and day out,” Mantia, 36, said. “I probably have more confidence in them, than they do in themselves. … It was just interesting watching (the quarterfinal). I was inspired, more than anything really, watching them lay it down.”

All the hours logged enable the skaters to race without verbal communication.

“Mostly, it goes by feel, we touch each other’s backs,” Cepuran said. “If Casey doesn’t feel me behind him, or I can’t feel Ethan, or Ethan is not on me, Casey can feel the effect of that.”

“We kind of pace it out, whether it’s just the tempo, or the pressure,” Lehman, 25, said. “(It’s about) really feeling it out, whether you have to pick it up in the front or whether you have to lay back a bit.”

 

They Are All Flexible


The skaters are all comfortable with their position in the three-man train, be it lead, second or third.

“It’s a comfort thing for all of us,” Lehman explained. “For me, Joey and Casey have relatively easy track patterns to follow. Ethan’s got really long legs, so it’s kind of tough for me to follow him. … We just practice different situations. We’ve kind of picked two positions that we feel really comfortable doing, and that’s the positions that we race in.”

And what are those positions?

“It depends on (which three) of us is skating, but Joey likes to be up front, Casey can be in the front or back, Ethan can be in second or the back,” he said. “Our followers can lead, and our leaders can follow.”

 

The Schedule Works In Their Favor


Having the semifinals and the finals the same day plays into Team USA’s strategy.

“We like it, we train for it,” Lehman said. “It excites us, we practice it going faster the second round.”

“It’s a puke and rally situation,” Cepuran added. “It’s great. We love it. It gets you hyped up.”

On Tuesday, Team USA will race in the second semifinal, along with the team from the Russian Olympic Committee. Norway and the Netherlands meet in the other semi.

“We all know we are all going to show up,” Cepuran said. “We all trust each other. Honestly, that’s what makes the team pursuit easy. I know going up to the line, I can trust in the two guys ahead of me, I know they believe in me. It’s just easy to get around.”

Lynn Rutherford

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

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