The eyes of the world are fixed on South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Jewish athletes are expected to put on a fabulous show in Pyeongchang. There are not as many Jewish star athletes in these Games as there were in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but there are still a number of compelling stories to follow in South Korea.
Israel is 60 percent desert, so it is little surprise that the Jewish nation usually fields a small team at the Winter Games. This year, however, Israel’s team is twice the size of its previous record. Ten athletes will represent Israel in Pyeongchang. The majority of these athletes will compete in one of the skating events. Among them is Alexi Bychenko. Bychenko is ranked as one of the top 10 male skaters in the world and will compete in figure skating. At the European Championships event in 2016, he became the first skater to bring home a medal for Israel. Vladislav Bykanov will also be representing Israel on the ice, but he will be competing as a speed skater.
Seventeen year old Paige Conners will be skating for Israel despite her American citizenship. Conners was ill during the U.S. figure skating tryouts, but she has the opportunity to skate for the Israeli team due to her mother’s Israeli citizenship. Israel allowed her to join the team on one condition: she had to skate in the pairs competition. Conners had never competed as part of a pair before, but she connected with Evgeni Krasnopolski. In just six short months, Conners mastered the new style well enough for her and Krasnopolski to make the Olympic team.
Conners is not the only non-Israeli who will be competing for Israel. A.J. Edelman is a Massachusetts native, but he will be making history in Pyeongchang as Israel’s first Olympian to compete in the Skeleton. Edelman goes by the nickname “The Hebrew Hammer” after the titular protagonist of the 2003 comedy and said that he looks to “challenge the perception of what Jews and Israelis can do in sports” at the 2018 Games. London-born Itamar Biran will also compete for Israel. He is set to carry the Jewish nation’s name in alpine skiing.
Israel is not the only country fielding Jewish athletes in Pyeongchang. American figure skater Jason Brown is first alternate for the U.S. team. The 23 year old is a fan favorite and is known for performing to music from “Riverdance” and “Hamilton.”
There will also be a Jewish athlete on the ice who is representing Canada. Certified Krav Maga instructor Dylan Moscovitch helped Canada take home the silver medal in the team figure skating during the Sochi Games in 2014. In Pyeonchang, Moscovitch will again be representing Canada in the pairs figure skating with his partner Liubov Ilyuschechkina.
Billions of people are watching the best of the best compete in Pyeonchang. Every country hopes their athletes bring home glory, and there are more Jewish athletes than usual who have a chance to bring home the gold. Only time will tell if they will take the top spot on the podium and the competition will be fierce. It always is at the Games.