For a country that is mostly known for desert, humidity and sunshine, sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics is no small feat (for the record, it does snow in Israel). Israel has never won a medal at the Winter Games, but they have still managed to compete at every one since 1994.
At this year’s Beijing Olympics, Team Israel is made up of only six athletes – none of whom were born in Israel and all of whom train abroad (figure skaters in New Jersey, skiers in Austria and one speed skater in the Netherlands).
Still, all of Team Israel’s athletes share one important thing in common: a unique sense of pride in the Jewish state and a desire to represent it.
You can follow Team Israel’s schedule as they compete from Feb. 4 to Feb 20 here.
Let’s meet the athletes competing for Israel at the Beijing Winter Olympics:
Alexei Bychenko, Figure Skating
Bychenko, 34, was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, and represented his native country in international competitions until 2009. In 2010, Bychenko, who is Jewish by way of his mother, became an Israeli citizen.
Since then, he has been competing for Team Israel on the international stage. In 2016, he became the first Israeli skater to win a medal at the European Championships.
Bychenko represented Israel in the men’s individual figure skating category at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics.
At the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, he served as Israel’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies and showed his Jewish pride on stage by skating to Hava Nagila. To this day, he calls skating to Hava Nagila it one of his favorite performances, he told The Forward.
This time around, he will skate to “Words” by Israeli singer-songwriter Harel Skaat for his short program and the theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean” for his free skate.
Evgeni Krasnopolski and Hailey Kops, Pairs Figure Skating
Evgeni Krasnopolski, 33, is another veteran figure skater. Krasnopolski was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, and immigrated to Israel with his family at 3-years-old.
Krasnopolski competed in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. In 2014, he and Andrew Davidovich were the first pair representing Israel to qualify for the winter games.
This year, Krasnopolski is representing Israel alongside Olympic first-timer, Hailey Kops. Nineteen-year-old Kops is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to compete for Israel in the Winter Olympics. Less than a year ago, Kops was studying in a Jerusalem seminary on her gap year. (Read more on her journey to the Olympics here.)
Krasnopolski served as one of Israel’s flag-bearers at the opening ceremony on Feb. 4.
Noa Szollos and Barnabas Szollos, Skiing
Noa, 19, and Barnabas, 23, have been colloquially deemed the “ski siblings.”
At 16, Noa won silver and bronze medals at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics, becoming the first Israeli athlete to win a medal at a Winter Olympic event. Her brother, Barnabas (Bernie) reached 21st place in the 2021 World Ski Championships in Italy.
The siblings have another brother, Benjamin. All three Szollos siblings ski competitively for Israel, although Benjamin did not qualify for olympics.
Their father, Peter Szollos, is a retired competitive skier. He skied professionally for Hungary and has Israeli citizenship. Peter coaches the ‘ski siblings.’
Noa served as one Israel’s flag-bearers at the opening ceremony on Feb. 4.
Vladislav Bykanov, Speed Skating
Vladislav Bykanov, 32, was born in Lviv, Ukraine, and moved to Israel with his family at 5-years-old. He will be representing Israel in short track speed skating.
Bykanov competed under the Israeli flag at the 2014 and 2018 winter games. In 2014, he served as Israel’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony. Although he’s never medalled at the olympics, he’s won the gold twice at the European Championships — for the 3000 meter race in 2015 and 2018.
In short track speed skating, Israel will be represented by 32-year-old Vladislav Bykanov – who previously won the gold medal in the 3,000 meter race at the 2015 and 2018 European Championship, and who represented Israel in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics.
Originally Published Feb 9 2022 10:34AM EST