Team Israel posts record-setting performances at Winter Olympics
The athletes reminisce about Pyeongchang and are already looking forward to 2022 in Beijing.
Israel sent its largest-ever delegation of athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the group of 10 athletes posted several record-setting performances. The results led the Washington Post to list the Mediterranean country 23rd out of 94 in a power ranking of all the countries that participated.
On the figure skating side, Israel set records before the games even opened, qualifying in the team event for the first time. Only 10 countries are invited to compete in the Olympic figure skating team event, which made their entry all the more impressive.
Veteran skater and Israel’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, Alexey Bychenko, impressed on the ice, opening the team event with a second place in finish the men’s singles short program. Bychenko carried that momentum into the individual event skating to 13th in the short program, qualifying him for the free skate.
He wowed the crowd during the free skate, performing a series of daring jump combinations. He nailed his performance and he knew it. Overcome with joy, he dropped to his knees at the end of the performance. The judges agreed, giving him a score of 172.88 – a personal best for Bychenko – good enough for 9th place ahead of U.S. favorite Adam Rippon.
Bychenko’s final combined score put him in 11th, Israel’s best result in men’s figure skating since Michael Shmerkin’s 16th place at the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway.
But Bychenko wasn’t the only Israeli skater to better Shmerkin’s result in Pyeongchang. In his debut Olympic performance, 2016 world junior champion Daniel Samohin finished 13th – that’s despite slicing his hand and heading to the emergency room for three stitches on his first day of practice in Pyeongchang.
Aimee Buchanan skated for Israel in the ladies singles as part of the team event, scoring a season-best result. "My experience at the Games were a dream come true," she told us. "Ever since I stepped foot into Korea I just tried to enjoy every moment and soak in everything I can and make it an amazing memory. Skating my personal best made my Olympic moment. I have not stopped enjoying one second of being here. Everyone is so nice and so supportive. The village and other athletes are amazing and being surrounded by such an elite group of athletes has been unreal. The Korean fans are fabulous and the energy and support they bring to the arena is great."
Itamar Biran became only the second Israeli man to compete in alpine skiing when he finished 49th in the men’s giant slalom. "My Olympic Games were incredible. I've had the time of my life and I will never forget it. To be able to call myself an Olympian is so honorable," said Biran. At just 19, he is one of the youngest skiers in the field of 110. More than 50 skiers of 108 to start didn't finish the slalom on the difficult Rainbow 1 course at Yongpyeong Ski Resort, including race favorites Austrian Marcel Hirscher, Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen and Biran.
Over at the Olympic Sliding Center, AJ Edelman was busy making history of his own as Israel’s first-ever skeleton slider. In case you’re not familiar, skeleton is similar to luge and runs on the same track as bobsled, except that you go headfirst and steer the sled with minute movements of your body. Edelman, a former hockey player at MIT, only took up the sport four years ago – and learned by watching YouTube videos.
“I decided that making the Olympic Games would be a platform from which to start a foundation to [help coach] Israeli kids, especially in winter sports but really in all sports. So that they would know that sports, as a pro athlete or an elite athlete, is a viable choice,” he said. He finished 28th – in the same position as his current world ranking – but cut significant time off his run each time down the track.
The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, bringing together almost 3,000 athletes from 92 countries to participate in 102 events across 15 sports.
“The overall experience was interesting. The village is much smaller than in Sochi but with this cold weather it’s a good thing,” said short track speed skater Vladislav Bykanov. “The volunteers were nice and happy all the time, which makes a great environment.” Bykanov’s season isn’t over yet; he heads to the World Championships in Montreal in less than a month.
Another good thing is the relative youth of Team Israel. With only a few exceptions, we can expect to see many of these athletes in four years in Beijing.
Yaniv Ashkenazi, the head of the Israeli delegation to Pyeongchang, told From the Grapevine that there are even better things to come in subsequent years. While he predicts the team may be slightly smaller at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing due to several of the current team members reaching retirement, the 2026 team could be even larger.
As for Biran, he's already got his eyes set on Beijing. "I will continue pushing as much as possible," Biran told us. "The Olympics only made me more determined for what is to come. Now my focus is on the next Olympics, and this time, I will be going for gold."
More Winter Olympic coverage on From The Grapevine:
- Israel to send its largest delegation ever to Winter Olympics
- Israel's best ski racer ready for Olympic stage
- Fresh off a gold in Europe, Israeli speed skater reveals his 'biggest dream'
- In his final Olympics, Alexey Bychenko skating for a place in history
- With no coach, this Israeli skeleton athlete learned the sport by watching YouTube videos
- Figure skater still pinching herself that Olympic dream coming true
- Figure skater chosen to be Israeli flag bearer at Olympic Games
- Olympic dreams come true thanks to unlikely partnership
- First photos: Israeli athletes share their arrival in Korea for Winter Olympics
- Young skaters to carry on Israel’s ice dancing tradition
- Daniel Samohin: 'I take risks because I skate for Israel'
- Slideshow: Photos of the Israeli athletes at the Olympics
- Aimee Buchanan shares videos and photos from her Olympic debut
- Video: Interview with father of Israeli Olympian Itamar Biran
- How a Midwestern girl ended up covering the Israeli team at the Winter Olympics
- Israeli Olympians impress in men's individual figure skating
- Video: Israeli alpine skier reflects on his Olympic debut
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