They're more serious than the Jamaicans whose upside down adventures in the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988 inspired the film, "Cool Runnings." And their media nickname, the "Chosen Frozen," is also less serious than they want to be.
But it becomes easier to treat the idea of an Israeli bobsled team seriously when you learn that it is headquartered in Canada within shouting distance of one of North America's three bobsled tracks, that the sled's pilot is a former U.S. Air Force pilot, and that it is within tenths of a second from meeting the strict new qualifying standards for the upcoming 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
Bobsled team member (and brakeman) David Greaves, who holds Canadian and Israeli citizenship, answers seven questions about his sport for Ynetnews.
1. How good is the Israeli bobsled team?
We finished 34th in the World Championship for two-man bobsled. We had set a goal of trying to be in the top 30. Last year, our first year, we were 36th of 39. One thing we learned is we have a lot of work to do.
We spent most of our time on the junior circuit last year, where we found there is a big gap between us and the top 30, but we have a chance to qualify (for the Olympics). This year we moved up a few spots. The competition was tough.
2. What will it take - in terms of times, training and practice?
Although we were slightly disappointed not coming 30th or closer, we now realize 10ths of seconds can be huge. We expect in our push to
Next year, the top 30 will qualify for the Olympics. In previous Olympics we would have qualified. Because they (International Bobsled Federation) have raised the bar, you are not going to get a lot of those teams you saw in the last Olympics, where if you had a minimum of races you automatically qualified with no specific time or race you had to win. All the teams that will get in will be the elite of the sport. The top 22 teams from the world cup championships get in automatically. The next five to six will be awarded at a challenge cup race, a one- to two-day race at a track to be determined. The rest of the teams - 25 teams - are racing for five or six spots. We know who they are. We know who we have to compete with and beat, including New Zealand, Mexico and Great Britain.
3. Which bobsled event are you in?
We have four athletes, but no four-man bob team. We started with a two-man team, and we realized we needed more than two guys, for travel, training. We had three athletes until this year, and then added brakeman Moshe Horowitz from Jerusalem (The other members: Aaron Zeff, pilot, John Frank, brakeman). We had talked about a four-man team, but we need more time on ice, not to qualify, but to get more time to train on track, and the cost is prohibitive at this point. We are struggling to support the team financially. We’re hopefully looking for a new sled to compete with next year. But we’re one of the few teams that have three to four athletes at all events.
4. What is the cost of operating the team?
About USD 100,000 a year, and that includes a week in Calgary, (Canada) or Lake Placid, (New York, both of which have bobsled tracks) with a coach, accommodations, shipping the sled. As a Jewish team, an Israeli team, what we have found is we are getting an incredible amount of media interest. It’s a great Jewish story in terms of being unique and a positive, happy story, and there is a lot of grassroots support. We have been able to raise a good amount of money, but a great portion is still out of pocket. We have spent USD 60,000-70,000 of our own money, and raised another 60,000-70,000 from businesses and individuals.
There are big corporate sponsors in the World Cup, which is televised on Eurosport (AA - the European version of ESPN), and we are looking for an Israeli company doing business outside Israel in North America as a sponsor.
5. Realistically, what are your chances of getting into the 2006 Olympics?
We beat Greece, and they were in the Olympics. Now it is a real struggle to get to that qualifying stage. There are only 16 bobsled tracks in the world, seven in Germany. Most nations have to go to some other place to train and compete, so we’re not at a disadvantage. U.K., New Zealand, Mexico, Jamaica, Greece, they have to go farther to have access to a track.
6. What has been the highlight so far?
Last year racing in Germany and Austria. The world championships were in Konigsee. Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” was looking over the town and the bobsled track. And last year was the first time in the history of the sport an Israeli flag flew over the track. It was incredibly moving for us. They played “Hatikva.” There were no dry eyes, not even our coach, who is not Jewish. We are doing everything we can to qualify for the Olympics, but that will never fade from our memory.
7. What is your relationship to the Israeli Olympic federation?
We couldn’t compete for Israel without a letter of sanction. But it was funny for us to hear a report that the Olympic federation says we don’t have team. I believe they know we exist - we received a letter from them - but obviously it is so low on the radar in terms of what they deal with, I don’t think it’s discussed on a regular basis.
There need to be some criteria in place if we qualify (for the Olympics). What criteria for sending us should be: If Israel has qualified a team, how do we get them to the games. There are some discussions going on. Israel likes to its put attention into teams that medal or finish in the finals. But if we get into the Olympics, we will be in the elite, the top 30 that won the honor of competing in the Olympic Games.