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Beijing 2022

Israel wraps up Winter Olympics without medals, but with new achievements

Skier Barnabas Szollos makes history for Israel in his Olympic debut, while figure skating veteran Evgeni Krasnopolski decides to hang up his skates following his third Games

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

  • Hailey Kops and Evgeni Krasnopolski, of Israel, compete in the pairs free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 19, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
    Hailey Kops and Evgeni Krasnopolski, of Israel, compete in the pairs free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 19, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • Barnabas Szollos of Israel passes a gate during the first run of the men's slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 16, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
    Barnabas Szollos of Israel passes a gate during the first run of the men's slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 16, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
  • The delegation from Russia takes part in the parade of athletes, underneath the Olympics rings, during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. (Ben STANSALL / AFP)
    The delegation from Russia takes part in the parade of athletes, underneath the Olympics rings, during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. (Ben STANSALL / AFP)
  • Hungary's Shaoang Liu (R) and Israel's Vladislav Bykanov compete in a heat of the men's 500m short track speed skating event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on February 11, 2022. (Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP)
    Hungary's Shaoang Liu (R) and Israel's Vladislav Bykanov compete in a heat of the men's 500m short track speed skating event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on February 11, 2022. (Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP)
  • Alexei Bychenko, of Israel, competes during the men's short program figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
    Alexei Bychenko, of Israel, competes during the men's short program figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 8, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
  • Athletes from Israel march into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
    Athletes from Israel march into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

While Israel did not come home with any medals from the Beijing Olympics, it still surpassed its own expectations at the Winter Games, racking up achievements for a country with very little winter sports culture.

The biggest win for Israel at the Games came from skier Barnabas Szollos, who achieved a surprising sixth-place finish in the men’s alpine combined, Israel’s best-ever Olympic skiing result.

Szollos’s sixth-place finish matched Israel’s best-ever Winter Olympics ranking, which was set two decades ago in 2002 when ice dancers Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski also finished sixth.

Szollos, 23, who made his Olympic debut in Beijing, was also the only male athlete to compete in all five individual ski events at the 2022 Games. And despite the difficult conditions atop the slopes, he managed to complete all of his races as other more experienced athletes crashed out.

“An amazing experience has come to an end,” he wrote on Instagram on Thursday after finishing all his events. “I achieved all my goals and exceeded my expectations. I finished all 5 events and was always in the top 30. One time even in the top 10.”

Szollos made his debut at Beijing alongside his younger sister, Noa Szollos, 19, who finished the women’s Super-G in 34th place and the slalom in 41st, while failing to complete the giant slalom. Both siblings — whose father, Peter Szollos, also competed internationally for Israel as a skier — said they already have their eye on the 2026 Games in Milan and Cortina, Italy.

Barnabas Szollos, of Israel, celebrates after finishing the slalom run of the men’s combined at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 10, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

In Israel’s final event at the Games on Saturday, Israeli pair skaters Hailey Kops and Evgeni Krasnopolski finished in 15th place after they advanced to the free skate.

“Skating on Olympic ice has been my dream for as long as I can remember, although last night wasn’t my best performance I’m so proud of [Krasnopolski], myself and my amazing team for what we have accomplished,” Kops, 19 — the first Orthodox Jewish woman to compete at the Olympics — wrote on Instagram on Sunday. “Today I can now call myself an Olympian.”

Krasnopolski, meanwhile, who made his third Olympic appearance in Beijing, told Israel Hayom that he will now be hanging up his skates after more than 15 years of competitive skating.

Israel, which has sent athletes to every Winter Olympics since 1994, has never won a medal at a Winter Games. Israeli officials have long noted that their goals for these Winter Games — unlike the Summer Olympics — did not include medals.

Yael Arad, the president of the Israel Olympic Committee, told reporters ahead of the Games that the IOC’s primary goal for Beijing was to show up and compete.

“I hope we have a happy games, that we make it there healthy,” she said in December, “we get through all the tests, we compete, and we represent Israel, even at the Winter Games, to show that Israel can send athletes even in something not obvious [for Israel], like winter sports.”

Hungary’s Shaoang Liu (R) and Israel’s Vladislav Bykanov compete in a heat of the men’s 500m short track speed skating event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on February 11, 2022. (Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP)

Speed skater Vladislav Bykanov, appearing at his third Winter Games, had his most successful Olympics so far — and the most successful for any Israeli speed skater — advancing to the quarterfinal in the 500m race and the semifinal in the 1500m race, ending up in 12th and 17th respectively. He also set a new personal record in the 1500m, finishing with 2:09.932 in the quarterfinal. Bykanov has said he intends to continue competing in the sport, setting his sights on the 2026 Olympics.

Figure skater Alexei Bychenko, meanwhile, did not have a particularly successful time in Beijing — his third Olympics — after falling during his short program and not advancing to the free skate.

Just qualifying for the Olympic Games is a considerable achievement for Israel’s athletes, officials said.

“They have put in a lot, along with everyone else who qualified for these Games,” said Galit Chait, now the head coach of Israel’s national figure skaters. “It wasn’t easy, it took a lot of hard work and determination to get qualified… they work day in and day out.”

“Maybe we’re not going to be gold, silver, bronze,” Chait said in December, “but the fact that we’ve actually qualified and everything is a great success.”

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