Exclusive: Israeli alpine skier reflects on his Olympic debut
Itamar Biran wowed the crowd on Sunday in Pyeongchang.
Israel’s Itamar Biran made his Olympic debut on Sunday with a wild and aggressive ride down the men’s giant slalom course in Pyeongchang, drawing cheers from the crowd in the stands.
“That was safe compared to usual,” he laughed afterwards when we caught up with him at the bottom of the slope.
PHOTOS: Israel at the Winter Olympics
The first run of the two-run race on the challenging Rainbow 1 course claimed more than 20 skiers, including two of the top-ranked skiers only a couple of turns from the finish.
"I didn’t go 100%. I made sure to think technically and get to the finish with good skiing,” Biran told From the Grapevine after the first run. The course was set by Swiss coach Helmut Krug, who made the most of the rolling terrain and transitions between the steep faces and flatter sections of the slope.
“I now know that I can finish a run like this, so it’s given my confidence a little boost,” said Biran. At just 19, Biran is one of the youngest athletes in the field of 110 skiers from 69 countries.
He was 58th after the first run, which was won by Austrian superstar and Pyeongchang alpine combined gold medalist Marcel Hirscher.
Biran started skiing competitively at just six years old when his family moved to Verbier, Switzerland. He currently lives and trains in France with an international group of top athletes.
The second run was somewhat more forgiving than the first, but was no less challenging. Racers start in order of their first-run time with the top 30 in reverse order. Tenth after the first run, Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen stepped on the gas to hold on to the leader’s position up until Hirscher got on course. Hirscher ultimately won by 1.27 seconds, an impressive margin in alpine ski racing.
Biran improved on his first run a full 9 positions to end the day in 49th and he was all smiles in the finish.
“It feels pretty good!” he said about finishing his first-ever Olympic race. From the stands, his skiing appeared more in control, but he was almost four seconds faster in respect to Hirscher’s time.
“The second run was better. I put a lot more intensity into it. I messed up the steep a little bit, but the flat was pretty good.”
He had one scare in the middle of the final steep, going wide on a turn and having to scramble to get back in the course. “I got a little scared at one point, but I guess all the training I’ve done, it’s almost natural to just come back into it,” he said.
“I'm very proud,” Itamar's father Doron told us a few days ago when we interviewed him at the venue in Korea.
While the women’s slalom and giant slalom were hampered by high winds and fog forcing a number of postponements, the men’s giant slalom started on time under sunny skies and a brisk 33 degrees. Fans from the traditional skiing powerhouses of Austria, Switzerland and Norway were out in force, but Biran had his own cheering section as well.
“I came here from Israel just to cheer on the Israeli team,” said Omer Peer, who was attending the race with Canadian-Israeli friend Robbie Cohen. “I hope we’ll get something but they’re all representing us with a lot of honor.” The two friends had been to ice hockey and plan to cheer on Israeli ice dancers Adel Tankova and Ronald Zilberberg later in the week.
“The medal doesn’t matter, we’re just here to support the athletes,” they said. Israel has sent it’s largest-ever winter delegation to this year's Olympic Games.
Also in the crowd was a man who rents an apartment to Biran’s mother in London. “I came here partly to see Itamar, and partly because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m working in Hong Kong so it’s nearby," he told us. "It’s phenomenal to see how fast they go down the course. The energy and power is just unbelievable, and it’s really exciting."
“You can always say it could have been better, but I’m happy with today," said Itamar. "I’ve learned a lot and I’m ready for the slalom, that’s where I hope to do a big result.”
The men’s slalom is scheduled for Feb. 22. Biran estimates that with two clean runs he could make it into the top 40, but said a top 30 result would be incredible. And his overall impression of the Olympics so far? “It’s been the experience of my life. I’m over the moon.”
More Winter Olympic coverage on From The Grapevine:
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- 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
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- Video: Israeli alpine skier reflects on his Olympic debut
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