New Jersey Orthodox teenager is Israel’s new Olympic skating prospect


When the 2022 Winter Olympics begin in Beijing in February, four Israeli skaters will put on their skates and take to the ice to represent the Jewish state.

Three of the four are veteran Olympians, each returning for their third Olympics next year. One of them, 19-year-old Hailey Kops from the United States, will make her Olympic debut in Beijing as a pairs skater for Israel with her partner, Evgeni Krasnopolski.

Kops, who lives in New Jersey, became an Israeli citizen several years ago and competed for Israel in several international competitions.

“Being a Jew, I have always felt connected to Israel. There has always been a part of me that has always wanted to do more than I already was, ”Kops told The Times of Israel in an interview last week at the Ice Peaks rink in Holon.

“Having the opportunity to represent the country that I feel so close to is really nice, whether I live here or not,” she added. “Being able to represent the Jewish people and this country is something I’ve always wanted to do. “

Kops grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in New Jersey with his parents Lisa and Steven Kops, both also at home on the ice – Lisa in figure skating and Steven in hockey. They encouraged all of their children to ice skating alongside their studies at Jewish school, and Hailey eagerly took to the sport. She teamed up with Israeli Artem Tsoglin and represented Israel at the 2017 World Junior Championships, the 2018 World Junior Championships and the 2019 European Championships.

After parting ways with Tsoglin, Kops decided to take a break from sports. She graduated from high school and spent a sabbatical year studying at Midreshet Amit Seminary in Jerusalem.

“It was amazing. I never really thought I would have the opportunity to go to seminary and I did,” Kops said. “I grew up in a modern Orthodox home, so I ‘go there and I learn more about why I do what I do and I can make new friendships and [learning] how to work on myself was really nice.

It was not always easy for Kops to maintain a traditional Jewish lifestyle alongside the very demanding schedule of a competitive athlete, with constant training and international competition.

“Lisa and I allow our children to play sports on Shabbat, but the difficult task was getting to the various sporting events because we don’t drive on Shabbat and don’t use our phones,” Steven Kops wrote in a Facebook post in October about Hailey’s trip. at the Olympic games. “Everyone embraces and practices their religious beliefs differently… [Hailey] calmly and in her own way, represented what it meant to be a modern Orthodox Jew competing at an elite level, “he wrote, adding that she would not fly on Shabbat or Jewish holidays and” would do his best to walk to the rinks or arrive before Shabbat.

Evgeni Krasnopolski and Hailey Kops (Amit Shisel / Israel Olympic Committee)

While at Amit, Kops said, she focused on her Jewish studies, but still continued with a bit of training, “enough for me to be okay now.”

Upon returning to New Jersey in June, Boris Chait, the head of the Israel Ice Skating Federation, called with an offer for Kops to partner with Krasnopolski. “Our main demands” before accepting, wrote Steve Kops, were that “Hailey would not train or train on Shabbat.”

After just three months of training together, Kops and Krasnopolski qualified for a berth at the Olympics by finishing fifth overall at the 2021 CS Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September.

In just a few weeks, they will be hitting the ice in Beijing in the pairs skating competition, which will only be the third time Israel has sent athletes to the event.

“I dreamed of it; I’ve always hoped to get there, ”Kops said of his participation in the Olympics. “It’s crazy, it’s an incredible opportunity and I’m grateful to my team for giving me the opportunity.”

Krasnopolski, 33, from Ukraine who moved to Israel at the age of 3, will compete in his third Olympics in February, after being the first to represent Israel in pairs at the 2014 Games.

“I am very proud to represent Israel for the third time,” he said at a press conference at the Holon ice rink last week. “Every time the Israeli flag is waved, it is a huge sense of pride for me. “

Kops and Krasnopolski will be joined in Beijing by Alexei Bychenko, who will compete for the third time in men’s figure skating at the Olympics, and Vladislav Bykanov, who will also compete in the rink for the third time in men’s short track speed skating. .

Israeli Alexei Bychenko performs in the men’s figure skating short program in the Gangneung Ice Rink at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea on February 16, 2018 (AP Photo / David J. Phillip)

The final makeup of Israel’s delegation to the 2022 Winter Olympics has yet to be determined, with some qualifying still to come. Israel has yet to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. And most analysts don’t expect that to change this year.

Galit Chait, a former Israeli Olympic ice dancer – and daughter of Boris – who is now the head coach of Israeli figure skaters, oversees their training in northern New Jersey. Ahead of the Games, she said, their expectations are high, but that doesn’t necessarily mean winning medals.

“I hope they make it to the final,” Chait told The Times of Israel of Kops, Krasnopolski and Bychenko. “They’re going to be training really hard right now to get ready, and we’re good to go.”

Just winning their Olympic qualifying spots, said Chait, is a major accomplishment.

“Everyone has done a lot of work to qualify for these Games,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, it’s a lot of hard work and determination to qualify, and as a team they work day in and day out, so I’m very proud of my athletes… we have a small team but This is not the case, which does not detract from the quality of our team.

The competition is fierce long before the Games start, she added. “There are only 19 teams in the world competing in pairs, 19 from around the world,” Chait said. “Maybe we’re not going to be gold, silver, bronze, but the fact that we qualified and everything is a big success.”

Anna Vernikov and Evgeni Krasnopolski of Israel compete in the pairs free skating program of the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series on Saturday, October 24, 2020 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo / David Becker)

Israel, not exactly known for its wintry climate, still has a long way to go in terms of the infrastructure, support and backing needed to feed the winter Olympic athletes. While the Holon Rink is officially the home ground for Israeli skaters, they train at a twice the size facility in northern New Jersey.

“We need a big rink, the size of the NHL or the Olympic size, because that would change everything,” said Chait. “You would be able to bring international competitions here. It would only change the whole situation. “

But Boris Chait pointed out how far Israel – which competed in its first Winter Olympics in 1994 with just one athlete – has progressed in winter sports.

People used to say that Israel is “a country where they only see ice in glass,” he joked. “No one in Israel really knew what ice skating is… today we have a place in the world. Today everyone knows that Israel is coming and that Israel will compete.

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