The Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, take place on Friday, Feb. 9, and this year’s competition offers much for the Jewish sports fan. Israel is sending its largest-ever contingent to the Winter Games — 10 athletes, including seven figure skaters, an Alpine skier, a speed skater and Israel’s first skeleton competitor, Boston-born A.J. Edelman. Other athletes to keep an eye on are U.S. bobsledder Evan Weinstock, British luger A.J. Rosen and Australian freestyle skier Anna Segal. Below are profiles of Weinstock, Rosen and Israeli downhill skier Itamar Biran. The Jewish community is setting up a kosher pop-up restaurant and other services for visitors in town for the games. Here are three Jewish athletes to watch this year.
Like going downhill ‘in a trash can’
Growing up in Las Vegas, Evan Weinstock was an outstanding high school football player. After an injury, he gave that up for track and field.
In college, at Brown University, where he majored in biology, he specialized in the decathlon and heptathlon, as an all-around athlete.
As a freshman, he became aware of bobsled when two of his senior teammates were invited to a combine training session in that winter sport. After his collegiate athletic career ended and he failed to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in decathlon, and he was “kind of bored,” not ready to give up competitive athletics, he thought again of bobsled.
He tried out for, and qualified for, the U.S. national bobsled team – as a brakeman, pushing his four-man sled to a quick start then spending the ride down the course “tucked up in a little cannonball position. It’s like being in a trash can and being kicked down a hill.”
Weinstock, now 26, quickly rose in the sport, part of U.S. bobsled teams that won gold in an international competition in Calgary in 2016.
New Rochelle native slides into third Games
Adam Rosen – known to his friends as AJ – likes speed.
He likes to ride roller coasters – upside down. He’s training to be a commercial pilot.
Rosen got attracted to luge, while watching the 1994 Winter Olympics as a 9-year-old on television in his New Rochelle home. Twelve years later he was in the Olympics, competing in the Torino Games for England, his mother’s native country.
Splitting his time between England and Whistler, Canada, he trains with the Canadian luge team, whose members call him “the fastest Jew on ice.”
Lugers slide down an icy track on a small sled, face up, feet first, at nearly 90 miles per hour.
He returned to the sport after a 2009 accident in which he dislocated his hip and suffered serious nerve damage.
Rosen (ajrosen.com), 33, a prime age for world-class lugers, ranks as Great Britain’s best-ever luge athlete.
He finished 16th at Torino and Vancouver; his best finish was sixth place at the Viessman Luge World Cup in Calgary during the 2008-09 World Cup season – “I beat some Germans, all the Americans.”
Uphill battle for success in a downhill sport
Itamar Biran’s crowdfunding pitch (makeachamp.com/itamarbiran/26293) makes a bold claim: “My name is Itamar Biran, and I am currently the best Israeli alpine ski racer.”
Maybe not so bold a claim.
Representing a Mediterranean nation with one ski slope (Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights) and a limited history of Olympic skiing (Misha Shmerkin, who competed in 1994 and 1998), Biran, 19, does not face much competition in Israel.
Like most Israeli Olympians, especially the country’s limited number of athletes in winter sports, Biran lives and trains overseas.
Biran, 19, a native of London, lives there when he’s not training in Switzerland and competing around Europe. He competes in giant slalom, super-G, slalom and combined.
A dual British-Israeli citizen, he lived in Israel as a child, returned to England for school, started skiing at three and competing at 12, found success in international competitions, and decided that he would represent Israel. “My heart was in Israel,” he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview – though he’s never skied on Mount Hermon.
A rising star in his sport, Biran is rarely recognized in Israel, though he draws Jewish fans in his races abroad. To pay for his training and travel, he depends on a combination of crowdfunding, sponsors, the Olympic Committee of Israel, and some help from his family.
Biran, who has deferred his service in the Israeli Army, said he hopes to study economics at a university in the United States when his skiing schedule allows.
His goal in his races in the 2018 Games is to finish in the top 30, he said. Still young, he plans to keep taking part in the Olympics in 2020, 2024 and 2028 – until he is in medal contention. “I’m not going to stop until I get it.”