Israeli Bychenko skates country into Olympic medal race
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Israeli Bychenko skates country into Olympic medal race

Figure skater gets Israel off to strong start in team event, but lackluster pairs routine leave team in middle of pack

Israel's Alexei Bychenko competes in the figure skating team event men's single skating short program during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 9, 2018. (AFP /Mladen ANTONOV)
Israel's Alexei Bychenko competes in the figure skating team event men's single skating short program during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 9, 2018. (AFP /Mladen ANTONOV)

Figure skater Alexei Bychenko kicked off Israel’s bid for its first-ever Winter Olympics medal with a strong performance early Friday, positioning the country to squeek into the team event finals.

Bychenko’s clean short program earned him a second place finish. However, Israel stumbled in the pairs short program, knocking the country back to fifth place in the 10-team field.

Bychenko’s bid fell short of Japan’s Shoma Uno, who skated a near-flawless routine, the only stumble coming on his opening jump.

Israel’s Alexei Bychenko (front center) reacts after competing in the figure skating team event men’s single skating short program during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 9, 2018. (AFP / Mladen ANTONOV)

Backed by the music of “Hava Nagila,” Bychenko, 30, garnered an 88.49, well short of Uno’s 103.25.

Patrick Chan of gold medal-favorite Canada fell on both of his quads but rallied in the back half of his program to take third. Nathan Chen of the US was fourth after doubling a triple toeloop and quad toeloop and falling on his troublesome triple axel.

Later, Israelis Paige Conners and Evgeni Krasnopolski skated in the pairs short program on Friday, notching a score of 54.47, good enough for ninth place.

The cumulative total gives Israel 11 points so far, good enough for fifth place out of 10, and just one point ahead of China, Italy and Germany.

Leading the pack is Canada with 17 points, followed by the US with 14, and Japan and athletes from Russia with 13 each.

Israel’s Paige Conners and Evgeni Krasnopolski compete in the figure skating team event pair skating short program during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 9, 2018. (AFP/ Mladen ANTONOV)

Teams are awarded points based on their finish in each discipline. The dance and ladies short programs are Sunday, when the field is trimmed to five nations. Each will then field a free skate program for each discipline, with medals decided Monday.

Israel has never won a medal in the Winter Olympics, but has fielded more athletes in recent years, partly in thanks to an influx of Russian immigrants. Its 10 athletes competing in Pyeongchang this year is a record for the country in the Winter Games.

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