Israel's Alexey Bychenko at a competition in France on November 18, 2017. Israel's Alexey Bychenko at a competition in France on November 18, 2017. Israel's Alexey Bychenko at a competition in France on November 18, 2017. (Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP/Getty Images)

In his final Olympics, Alexey Bychenko skating for a place in history

Israeli figure skater may be country's best bet to earn its first Winter Olympic medal.

Alexey Bychenko has loved figure skating for longer than he can remember. “I was a small kid and I watched figure skating on TV whenever any competition was on. Nobody could watch anything else because I was sitting right in front of the TV and enjoying the skating," Bychenko explained to From the Grapevine. "So that’s why my mom decided to give me to this sport. I don’t exactly remember that, but it’s what she told me.” He was 5 years old.

PHOTOS: Israel at the Winter Olympics

Two and a half decades later, Bychenko is headed for his second Olympic Games representing Israel. He was born and raised in Ukraine and was a two-time national silver medalist there. But he wasn’t selected for the Olympic team in Vancouver in 2010. Frustrated, he nearly gave up on skating when got the opportunity to compete for Israel.

“It is an honor to compete for Israel. I’m really proud of that,” he said.

And Israel is proud of Bychenko. He represented Israel at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and at nearly a dozen World and European Championship events, scoring progressively better results. He’s racked up a handful of podiums in this recent Olympic cycle including three gold medals at events in Croatia, Poland and Estonia, and a silver medal at the 2016 European Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. At the 2018 European Championships held earlier this month in Moscow, he finished fifth. As the days count down to Pyeongchang, Bychenko said he’s feeling confident in his performance.

“I didn’t complete my short program in Moscow. I fell on the quad jump," he said. "I recognized at that moment it’s going to be a problem, but then the judges gave me an even lower score than I expected. One of the things pushing me in the long program was the angry feeling I had from the short program. And I think it worked well because I did a really nice long program. There are some things I will work on before the Olympic Games, but overall, I’m really happy with this place."

He trains at the Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey, the primary location of the Israeli figure skating team. The Israeli pairs team Paige Conners and Evgeni Krasnopolsky train there, as well as Israeli ice dancers Adel Tankova and Ronald Zilberberg and the 2016 World Junior Champion representing Israel, Daniel Samohin.

“It’s a lot of people from different parts of the world. Some are from the U.S., but the west side, other people from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. We’re all skating and living here together, so we’re very close. It’s like a small family,” Bychenko told us.

He’s known primarily for his jumping, particularly the power he puts into his quad jumps. When he’s not training himself, he works with Conners and Krasnopolsky as the technical coach responsible for jumps as well as the Israeli junior pairs team.

For Bychenko, the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang start on Feb. 9 when he’ll take the ice for the men’s single short program as part of the team event. He’s slated to skate in the men’s individual short program on Feb. 16, with the medal to be awarded on Feb. 17 after the free skate (long program).

Israel has never won a Winter Olympics medal, but Bychenko said he doesn’t like to think about what could be in the future. First things first, he has a job to do; the goal is to skate two clean programs. “Then it’s up to the judges to decide.”

He will turn 30 just a few days ahead of the opening ceremony in South Korea. Competition comes first, but he also hopes to have some time to cheer on the Israeli athletes in other sports, especially alpine skiing and short track. “In general, I like all winter sports,” he said.

Though it ultimately depends on his health and fitness, Pyeongchang is likely to be Bychenko’s last Olympics as an athlete. “Four years is a long time, and there are a lot of really good young skaters coming up. They’re the new generation. But I might be at the next one as a coach,” he revealed.

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