BEIJING, China — It wasn’t the medal he was hoping for, but Ethan Cepuran is one of a select few Americans who can say they’ve ever stood on an Olympic podium.
The 21-year-old speed skater from Glen Ellyn will leave the Beijing Olympics this weekend after earning bronze in Tuesday’s team pursuit, a unique event in which three skaters from each country skate eight laps together in a bracket-style elimination format. The third-place finish came a week after Cepuran, a graduate of Glenbard West High School and product of the Glen Ellyn Speedskating Club, finished 17th of 20 in the men’s 5000 meter skate.
“Absolutely amazing,” he said of his debut Olympics. “I felt I gave everything I had on the ice these past couple weeks. To represent my country on the world’s highest stage was an incredible honor, and my only regret is that we didn’t come home with a gold medal.”
The regret, as Cepuran’s U.S. pursuit teammate Joey Mantia best described it, was not for a lack of effort or subpar skating. The Americans were simply unlucky in the team event.
Favored to win gold in Beijing after setting a world-record time of 3 minutes, 34.47 seconds during a Salt Lake City competition back in December, the U.S. men knew the Olympic ice in China wouldn’t be quite as fast as their home turf. Yet, with Casey Dawson in front, Emery Lehman skating second and Cepuran skating third, they breezed through the Feb. 13 seeding round with a time of 3:37:51 — finishing just four hundredths of a second behind the prelim heat winners from Norway. The second-place finish of eight countries was easily enough for the U.S. to advance to the semifinal knockout-style round.
Facing the Russian Olympic Committee, which was competing under a neutral flag due to doping-related sanctions, the U.S. team improved on its quarterfinal round by nearly a half-second. The Glen Ellyn native again skated third, behind front-man Dawson and Lehman in the middle. With his hand slightly extended to keep pace with his teammates just inches in front of him, Cepuran pushed his razor-sharp skates at ice at Beijing’s National Speed Skating Oval in unison with those of Dawson and Lehman. The skate, Cepuran said, was “a strong team effort.”
But a shocking Olympic-record time of 3:36.62 from the Russians ended the Americans’ quest for gold.
“They had the race of their lives,” Cepuran said of the ROC team. “There’s not much you can do about that. Instead of pouting, we just refocused and set our minds on winning the next race.”
To put the ROC’s surprise semifinal time in perspective, the same team finished nearly four seconds slower in the championship race, ultimately earning silver as Norway took gold.
Mantia skated in Cepuran’s place during the bronze-medal race with Lehman and Dawson as the Glen Ellyn native watched from the sidelines. The team of Mantia, Lehman and Dawson with Cepuran as an alternate matched the U.S. lineup from the world-record skate two months ago. And it was good enough to defeat a loaded Netherlands team by nearly three seconds.
Cepuran was the third-youngest of the seven men representing the U.S. in long track speed skating in Beijing, older only by a couple months than Dawson and by a few years than 17-year-old phenom Jordan Stolz.
Asked whether he hopes to compete in Italy’s Milan Cortina Olympics four years from now, Cepuran didn’t make any promises. But if the Beijing games are any indication, the Olympic future of the U.S. speed skating team and young Glenbard West alum seem incredibly bright.
Source: The Daily Chronicle