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Thursday, February 6, 2014 | return to: news & features, international


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For Israel’s Olympic skaters, Jersey ice rink is home

by hillel kuttler, jta

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At a skating rink in Hackensack, N.J., Evgeni Krasnapolsky and Andrea Davidovich glide around the ice, shadowing one another to the accompaniment of Nino Rota’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.”

The figure skating pair were refining their long program a few weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which opened on Feb. 6.

Alexei Bychenko (from left), Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnapolsky train in New Jersey but skate for Israel.  photo/jta-hillel kuttler
Alexei Bychenko (from left), Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnapolsky train in New Jersey but skate for Israel. photo/jta-hillel kuttler
Krasnapolsky, 25, and Davidovich, 16, practiced their choreographed hand holding, lifts and throws at the indoor Ice House complex in this New Jersey suburb, which has become the epicenter of Israel’s Winter Olympics figure skating team.

The pair, who began working together less than a year ago, will represent Israel at the Sochi games along with fellow figure skater Alexei Bychenko, 25, who also trains here year-round. The figure skating competition will be held Feb. 11-12.

Rounding out the Israeli Winter Olympics contingent are alpine skier Virgile Vandeput, 24, based in Belgium, and short-track speed skater Vladislav Bykanov, 19, based in the Netherlands. All are first-time Olympians.

Krasnapolsky and Davidovich are coached by Galit Chait, a three-time Israeli Olympian in ice dancing. Overseeing the New Jersey operations is Chait’s Moldovan-born father, Boris Chait, who is the president of the Israel Ice Skating Federation although he has lived in the United States since 1975.

Chait, who also runs a computer consultancy, is cultivating a crop of skaters he predicts will represent Israel at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and beyond.

He and his daughter offer some names to watch: Artem Tsoglin, Netta Schreiber, Polina Shlepen, Daniel Samohin, Kimberly Berkovich, Ronald Zilberberg, Allison Reed and Vasili Rogov.

“I hope that we continue to grow and produce athletes who … are at the top of the world in international competitions,” says Galit Chait, who is coaching seven 2014 Olympians.

A nonprofit organization founded by Boris Chait, the International Sports Program houses and trains the 11 skaters here who are Israeli citizens, along with nine others based in California, New York, Russia and Ukraine. The athletes train abroad because of Israel’s paucity of ice rinks and high-quality coaching.

The program is funded by private donations along with the Israel Ice Skating Federation, the Olympic Committee of Israel and the International Skating Union.

The New Jersey operation has produced encouraging achievements. At the European Championships last month in Budapest, the Krasnapolsky-Davidovich duo finished seventh and Bychenko was 10th. In December in Croatia, the pair placed first and Bychenko was fourth at the Golden Spin of Zagreb. Israel has yet to medal in a Winter Olympics.

The achievements come at a cost: The upkeep for each athlete training in the United States runs about $100,000 annually, covering room and board, ice time, coaches, costumes, choreographers, travel to competitions  — “including, including, including,” Chait adds, gesturing with a rolling hand.

The arrangement means that “athletes don’t have to worry about their next meal,” Chait says. “All they have to do is train hard on and off the ice and do their schoolwork,” if they are that age. Davidovich and Tsoglin are enrolled in an online high school.

Ten of the 11 Hackensack skaters live in a tidy, refurbished home less than a mile from the Ice House, overseen by a den mother named Nadia. Davidovich lives with her family a 40-minute drive away.

Without the New Jersey infrastructure, “we would not be able to get to the Olympics,” Bychenko says in one of the home’s two kitchens while gulping a mid-afternoon yogurt.

“It was a hard decision because my family is there,” adds Bychenko, who arrived from Kiev three years ago. “If I were skating in Ukraine, I would not have gotten to the level I am at now.”


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