Israel’s Winter Olympians were never serious medal hopefuls, but that didn’t stop them from showing what’s to come.
The five athletes – solo figure skater Oleksii Bychenko, pair skaters Evgeni Krasnopolsky and Andrea Davidovich, speed-skater Vladislav Bykanov and alpine skier Virgile Vandeput – put in quality performances that could result in future Olympic medals.
Krasnopolsky and Davidovich, who only began skating together in the spring of 2013, glided to a 15th place finish overall.
“We achieved our goal! We qualified for the free program at the Sochi 2014 Olympics … Thank you for all the support!” the duo wrote on their Facebook page.
Commentators noted that they are a team to watch. And spectators will have that chance in March, when Krasnopolsky and Davidovich compete in Japan at the World Figure Skating Championships.
Israel has participated in the Winter Olympics since 1994. Like other warm-weather countries, its athletes often train abroad. After Sochi, Krasnopolsky and Davidovich will continue fine-tuning their skills at Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey.
The duo is coached by Galit Chait, a three-time Israeli Olympian in ice dancing, and Gennadi Krasnitski. Solo skater Bychenko, also born in Kiev, shares the Hackensack rink space.
Bychenko gave Israeli fans a glimmer of hope when he made it to the men’s figure skating finals but a spill plopped him back to a 21st place finish overall.
The 25-year-old Krasnopolsky was raised in Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel. He started his skating forays at the Canada Center in Israel, but moved to the US to train professionally.
He told Ha’aretz that it irks him to hear people say athletes from warm countries can’t compete in winter sports. “An unreasonable number of people raise that argument,” he told the Hebrew daily. “I always respond: ‘You don’t turn your refrigerators off during the summer, right? With us it’s the same thing. We don’t need snow; we need a skating rink. Like a tennis court with refrigerators.’”
Bykanov, who moved to Israel from the Ukraine in 1994 and grew up in Kiryat Shmona, trains in the Netherlands. The former IDF outstanding sportsman has voiced his Israeli allegiance.
“For me, representing Israel is everything. I have never felt like I was anything else [than Israeli] … I grew up and got into my sport in Israel, and everyone in the world sees me as Israeli, not Russian or anything else,” Bykanov told Ynet News.
And alpine skier Vandeput lives in France. His mother is Israeli and he began skiing for Israel in 2010.
The Israeli anthem was not heard in Sochi on the podium. But the five athletes waving the blue-and-white flag still made a mark.
Bykanov–– who carried the Israeli flag at the opening ceremonies — performed better than expected at the Sochi Games. He missed out on a place in the 1,500-meter semifinals by 76 hundredths of a second.
The 24-year-old is also scheduled to compete in the 500m short track competition on Tuesday.
All five were making their Olympic debut. With proper training, they might get closer to the podium in South Korea in 2018.