Regarding her three hour daily workouts, Tamar Katz says, “It’s hard work, but when I’m on the ice, time flies.” (Photo: George Javor)Tamar Katz is already media savvy, offering a short biography at the beginning of an interview.

“I’m 14 years old, and I’m an ice skater representing Israel. I’m a dual citizen of both the United States and Israel, because I was born in Dallas, Texas. Now I live in Metulla, Israel which is in the north of the country,” she states confidently.

Katz has reason to be confident. She’s one of Israel’s up and coming skaters – who competed successfully in the Junior Grand Prix in Germany last year (she ranked 10th). The daughter of an Israeli diplomat, Katz lived in Maryland between the ages of 7 and 13 where her father worked for the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C., and that’s where she caught the skating bug.

“That’s where I first skated. I was invited to a birthday party by a lake in the winter when I was 9. So there was ice skating. I just loved it and couldn’t get enough. By age 10, I was taking lessons twice a week, and at age 11, a coach in Virginia told me that I was talented and should start taking it more seriously,” Katz told ISRAEL21c. Back in Israel for over a year, Katz has quickly become one of the most talked about young skaters in the country.

“She has beautiful spins and techniques,” says Judith Javor General Secretary of the Israel Ice Skating Federation “She has a lot of potential, but it’s still the very early days.”

The notion of world-class ice-skating in Israel may sound as absurd as Eskimos windsurfing, but Metulla has become a world class mecca for both local and international skaters.

Over 40 top-tier skaters from 10 countries converged last week on Metulla’s Canada Centre’s world class skating facilities for Skate Israel an International Senior Ice Skating Competition sponsored by The Israeli Ice Skating Federation.

In what represents a triumphant return, the competition took place this year for the first time since 2000, when event was canceled in 2002 and 2001, due to security considerations. The late Yossi Goldberg, the founder and builder of the Canada Center and a major developer of ice skating in Israel, established Skate Israel in 1995.

But this year – the seventh time Israel has put on the event – teams arrived from Azerbaijan, Belarus, the UK, Hungary, Russia, Serbia-Montenegro, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

And of course, there were the Israeli skaters.

Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky more than lived up to expectations in their final Free Dance number at Skate Israel. capturing the gold medal with a routine to Nino Rota’s Pagliacci.

“We’re so delighted and proud to be able to perform our new dances for the first time in front of our home crowd in the opening tournament of the new season,” Chait told The Jerusalem Post. “We’ve been working very hard to improve over last season and are now working with a complete team.
“Also, Boris [Drabkin, the top speed-skating coach at the Canada Center] has been coming to the USA where we train, in order to work with us on our stroking ? special strength conditioning. We have to be even stronger than before for our newest routines.

In the Ladie’s event, Keren Shua Haim, skating for Israel in her first senior tournament, finished fifth. Diana Poth of Hungary won the gold, while Daria Timoshenko of Azerbaijan took the silver, and the bronze went to Iryna Lukyanenko of the Ukraine.

Julia Shapiro, a recent immigrant, teamed up with Metulla’s Vadim Akolzin to form Israel’s first Pair and beat out Marina Aganina and Artyem Knyazev of Uzbekistan for the top prize.
Roman Serov, representing Israel for the first time, skated superbly and easily won the gold medal for the third time. Skating for Russia, Serov won the gold in 1999 and 2000, and in order to switch allegiances, he had to take a year off. Serov was also coming back from a serious injury, which saw him get 30 stitches in his leg.

For Katz, the competition provided her with the chance to view skating talent from around the world up close.

“I was too young to compete in Skate Israel, but I performed in an exhibition. It’s a really prestigious event, and it’s always exciting to interact with skaters from other countries,” she says. “Competitions are always fun, but they’re intense. Everybody get nervous, and they’re lying if the say they don’t.”

Katz is devoted to a rigid regimen of three-hour daily workouts on the ice six days a week. In addition, she trains in ballet, weight lifting and running to complement her workouts.

“It’s hard work, but when I’m on the ice, time flies,” she says, adding that off the ice, she likes to do the things that other 14-year-olds enjoy. “I like to be with my friends, to read, write and do other sports like tennis. I’m crazy about Harry Potter [which she reads in English]”

In order to devote more time to her training and enable her to still have an outside life, Katz and her family decided to homeschool while they were living in the U.S., a practice they’ve continued in Israel.

“I was 100% home schooled in the US. You actually learn more than by going to school, I think. It’s all done on the Internet. I’m in touch with my supervisor almost every day, she looks at my work sends it back to me,” explains Katz. “Since I’ve been back in Israel, I still do home schooling, but I do go to school part time in Kiryat Shmona, so I can improve my Hebrew.”

Katz is overjoyed at the training facilities at the Canada Center in Metulla, which she claims rival any skating center in the U.S. But she says the main obstacle for Israeli ice skaters is the dearth of quality coaching.

“The problem in Israel is not so much lack of skaters, but the coaching. The Ice Center in Metulla is amazing, I’ve never been to such a training facility even in the US. Israel is on the map for international ice dancing – thanks to Sergei and Galit. But there’s a real need for a top level coach here. They had to go to the U.S. to train. Skaters in Israel could be the best in the world, but we need a mentor.”

According to Javor, one of Skate Israel’s aims is to show the world skating community that Israel has much to offer, and to hopefully attract top level coaches.

“Skate Israel attracts top class skaters here, often a year before they achieve their heights. Alexei Yagudin, who was a gold medal winner at Salt Lake City, was here the year before. We tend to get a good level of skater. And Israel has a great name around the world regarding the trappings of putting on an international event. When I started this job I went to a European championship to learn what organizing an event like that entails, and I was told that Israel has nothing to learn from Europe,” says Javor.

Despite obstacles due to her location, Katz is happy to be back in Israel.

“It’s an honor for me to be living here and representing Israel,” she says.

Instead her eyes are set on the ice, looking ahead to her skating development and beyond.

“Of course my long term goal is to be an Olympic medal winner, but I prefer to focus on short term goals. I’d like to win a junior world medal at the winter competition in the Netherlands this winter.”