Israel’s five Winter Olympic athletes this week flew out to Russia in search of the country’s first ever Games medal.
In what will be Israel’s sixth appearance at a Winter Olympiad, the delegation for the 2014 tournament in Sochi which gets underway later today, consists of a Belgian-born skier, and four skaters, three who were born in Ukraine, and one from America.
Virgile Vandeput is a 19-year-old skier, who is a former member of Belgium’s national skiing team. Born to an Israeli mother, he’ll compete in two Alpine skiing events, the giant slalom and special slalom, and has been representing Israel in international competitions for four years. He said: “I’m excited but I’m also stressed. I’m very proud to represent Israel and my whole family lives there.”
Ukrainian Evgeni Krasnopolski and American Andrea Davidovich will skate in the pairs competition. The duo, who train in Hackensack, New Jersey, qualified for the Games by finishing in tenth place at the Nebelhorn Trophy, which was the final qualifying event for the Games. They warmed up for the Games by finishing seventh in the senior pairs competition at the European Skating Championships in Budapest last month.
Alexei Bychenko is also a Ukraine native who grew up in Israel. Representing Israel in the men’s figure skating, he finished 10th in the men’s singles at the European championships earlier this month in Germany, and fifth place in the Nebelhorn Trophy.
The other Ukranian-born skater Vladislav Bykanov, will compete in the short-track speed skating competition. He finished in the top 10 in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters at the European championships. And while Israel aren’t holding out too much hope in terms of winning medals, Boris Chait, president of the Israeli Ice Skating Federation, said: “I hope we make the finals in every event we enter, I am cautiously optimistic.”
Meanwhile, despite mounting concerns regarding security at the Games, Vladimir Shklar, the head of the Israeli delegation, believes they will be in safe hands. He said: “We have to remember that the terror attacks in Russia are because of internal tension between the Caucasus republics and Russia. It has nothing to do with Israel and the Jews, but of course we have to remember, wherever we are, we attract fire. “We trust the Russian security services, the Russians have the village closed off hermetically.”