Photo: Reuters
Olympians at Sochi
Photo: Reuters

Winter Olympics 2014: Meet Team Israel

Israel has sent five athletes to this year's Games, to compete in skating and skiing. But delegation head Vladimir Shklar warns: We're not talking about medals

Israel first took part in the Winter Olympics in the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, and has been represented at each Winter Games ever since. This year, the country has a five-strong delegation of skaters and skiers. But unlike the famous faces of other Israeli Olympians such as Arik Ze'evi and Tal Fridman, our winter soldiers pass among us relatively unrecognized.



So here we present our five athletes as they go forth to do battle in Russia.


Andrea Davidovich was born in Burlington, Vermont in 1997, to American Jewish parents who had previously lived in Israel. She and partner Evgeni Krasnopolski were the first Israeli skaters to qualify as for the pairs' competition at the Winter Olympics.


We are delighted to be representing Israel," says Davidovich. "Our aim at the Olympics is to skate as well as we can, and reach the final."


The two train at the "Ice House" in Hackensack, New Jersey, under the guidance of coach Gennadi Krasnitski, who was himself twice World Champion. They work with choreographer Galit Chait, who has also represented Israel at a number of Games.


"We have put in a lot, a lot of work, hour upon hour, every day," says Krasnopolski. "We give 100 percent of ourselves and I hope this will be reflected in our performance at the Olympics, and that we'll go as far as we can."


The 25-year-old made aliya from Kiev at the age of three, and began skating in 1996. He and Davidovich have skated together since 2013.


Alexei Bychenko was also born in Kiev, Ukraine and is also competing in the figure skating, albeit solo. Aged 26 (he celebrated his birthday this week), he started out as a skater for his country of birth, before switching to represent Israel in 2010. he started skating in 1993, and like Davidovich and Krasnopolski trains in Hackensack, New Jersey, although under coach Craig Maurizi. But he too is choreographed by Galit Chait.


Belgian born 19-year-old Virgile Vandeput may be entering the alpine skiing competition under the Israeli flag, but he actually lives in France, where he can trains under maximal conditions. His mother was born in Israel, although she left as a young child with her parents. He began skiing for Israel in 2010, reportedly because he felt that this would allow him a greater chance of competing internationally.


Vladislav Bykanov, 24, will be competing in the short track skating, both 1,000 and 1,500 meters. Byankov is Israel's greatest hope for the Games, aiming to reach at least the quarter-finals in his sport, and possibly the semi-finals.


Byankov trains in the Netherlands with the Dutch team, but most of his life has been spent in Kiryat Shmona. He served in the IDF as an outstanding sportsman, and finished 10th in the last European Championships, after coming fifth the year before.


"My training levels have risen a lot recently," Byankov said, prior to his departure for Sochi. My personal expectation is to reach 15th place in one of the races. For me, representing Israel is everything. I have never felt like I was anything else (than Israeli)."


Byankov, who was chosen to carry the Israeli flag at the opening ceremony, dismissed allegations that the five Olympians only had a loose connection to Israel. "I grew up and got into my sport in Israel, and everyone in the world sees me as Israeli, not Russian or anything else."


The Israeli delegation is headed by Vladimir Shklar, the vice president of Israel's Olympic Committee and a former fencer.


"This is the highest quality delegation," Shklar said last week. "These are athletes who just two weeks ago were reaching the finals of the European Championships."


Shklar said that Team Israel aimed to have at least one person reach the final in their class, but warned Israelis against getting their hopes of a medal too high. "Not everyone goes to the Olympics, just the 20 or 30 best in the world… We're not talking about medals, we have to be realistic."


Sara Miller contributed to this report  


פרסום ראשון: 02.06.14, 17:50
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