Itamar Biran will be representing Israel during several alpine ski events at the 2018 Winter Games. Itamar Biran will be representing Israel during several alpine ski events at the 2018 Winter Games. Itamar Biran will be representing Israel during several alpine ski events at the 2018 Winter Games. (Photo: Sebastien Maze)

Israel to send its largest delegation ever to Winter Olympics

10 Israeli athletes will compete in figure skating, alpine skiing, speed skating and skeleton – and some of them could be medal contenders.

When someone mentions the Winter Olympics, you likely conjure images of American, Canadian and Russian hockey players, Austrian ski racers, Norwegian and Swedish cross-country skiers, or Korean and Dutch speed skaters – all traditional winter sports powerhouses. But in the spirit of Olympic inclusion, more and more smaller nations have been getting into the Games in recent years. This year, Israel will send its largest ever delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with athletes participating in figure skating, alpine skiing, short track and skeleton. While Israel has won medals at the Summer Olympics in sports like judo and sailing, it has never won one at the Winter Games. But 2018 could be the year that changes.

PHOTOS: Israel at the Winter Olympics

The figure skaters, led by 2016 European Championships silver medalist Alexey Bychenko, will make up half of the Israeli team. Bychenko will be one of Israel’s best hopes for a medal in these games. As the 2016 World Junior Champion, Daniel Samohin could also have a shot at a medal. However, he suffered a shoulder injury at Skate America in November, and it remains to be seen whether he is fully recovered and ready for Pyeongchang. Look for Bychenko and Samohin in the men’s short program and freeskate on Feb. 16-17.

Evgeni Krasnopolsky and Paige Conners will represent Israel in the pairs competition on Feb. 15, and Adel Tanakova and Ronald Zilberberg will participate in ice dancing on Feb. 20. Joining Israel in the team competition on Feb. 12 will be 24-year-old Aimee Buchanan.

Israel is normally thought of as a warm country on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but it does have the Mount Hermon ski resort rising 6,693 feet above sea level. Many of the country’s top winter athletes also train in other countries.

“We support our athletes abroad," Yaniv Ashkenazi, head of the Israeli delegation to Pyeongchang, told From the Grapevine. "We know our weaknesses, so we invest in their training. In parallel, we invest money on developing young athletes in figure skating because we have a lot of talent in Israel.”

Ski racing is a lot of waiting

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Itamar Biran is set to become the second Israeli man to compete in alpine skiing. Biran, who will celebrate his 20th birthday in March, lives in Verbier, Switzerland, and trains in France with an international group of athletes.

“We have a few small nations together with skiers at a high level and we train together,” Biran told us. “I trained on my own for a year, and then I realized it’s better to train with other people. You’ve got to find people who are the same level that can push you forward.”

Biran is slated to race in the men’s giant slalom on Feb. 18 and the men’s slalom on Feb. 22.

Israel's Vladislav Bykanov (front) competing at the ISU World Short Track Championships last year. Israel's Vladislav Bykanov (front) competing at the ISU World Short Track Championships last year. (Photo: Vincent Jannink / AFP/Getty Images)

Vladislav Bykanov will make his second appearance at the Winter Olympics in short track speed skating. Bykanov is going into the games with a win at the 2018 European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in the 3000m and a silver medal overall. He’ll compete in all three short track events – the 500m, the 1,000m and the 1,500m.

“My confidence level is really high. I’ve been doing really well in the past two years, and I'm only getting better," he told us. "Two years ago, I won my first and Israel’s first ever medal in the World Cup. Since then, I’ve been racing in more finals and I’ve finished among the top skaters in every competition.”

That feeling when you meet your basheret and you know it... #love

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A.J. Edelman will round out the team of 10 with a berth in skeleton. The 26-year-old known as the “Hebrew Hammer” will become Israel’s first ever Olympic skeleton racer when he dives headfirst down the icy track at the Olympic Sliding Center on February 15.

Ashkenazi said they’re really excited about this crop of athletes, but 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.

Click here for the full schedule of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Israeli athletes, coaches and delegation members pose for a picture ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Israeli athletes, coaches and delegation members pose for a picture ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. (Photo: The Olympic Committee of Israel)

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