Proud to Be an Israeli, on and Off the Ice

He grew up in Israel, served in the IDF, lives abroad only to improve his ability and urges his skating partner to learn Hebrew. Evgeni Krasnopolski is realizing his dream at the Winter Olympics but hopes to see Israel 'producing athletes, not only importing them like cars.’

Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir
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Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir

SOCHI − Two things manage to anger Evgeni Krasnopolski, the figure skater representing Israel at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. During his travels he repeatedly hears that in a “summer” country like Israel winter sports are irrelevant. “An unreasonable number of people raise that argument,” the 25-year-old says. “I always respond: ‘You don’t turn your refrigerators off during the summer, right? With us it’s the same thing. We don’t need snow, we need a skating rink. Like a tennis court with refrigerators.’”

The second issue that enrages Krasnopolski, who immigrated to Israel at the age of three, is that in order to build a delegation to the Winter Olympics, Israeli sport associations turned to athletes who are undoubtedly Jewish, but whose connection to Israel is somewhat questionable. Many Israelis aren’t aware of the nuances and tend to see the whole delegation as a foreign legion. “I don’t enjoy being viewed as a non-Israeli. It’s really aggravating because I’ve lived here for 17 years, grew up here and served in the military, and all my best friends still live in Israel. I’m judged by those who know nothing about me, solely because I’m into winter sports.”

Krasnopolski began skating at the Canada Center in Metula, the only skating rink that existed at the time. His father encouraged him to try ice hockey, while his mother preferred figure skating. For a year, when he was eight, Krasnopolski tried both sports, before opting for the more artistic direction. At the age of 16 he already participated in international competitions, and continued to skate even during his military service, where he was initially used for base maintenance before being upgraded to a cook.

On the ice, Krasnopolski was fast and focused enough to attract the attention of Boris Chait, chairman of the Israel Ice Skating Federation. Chait used his professional and financial ties, and sent the young skater to train in the United States. At 20, Krasnopolski arrived, alone at the “Israeli home” in New Jersey, where Israeli skaters live next to a training center and are coached by Chait’s daughter, Galit, bronze medalist at the 2002 World Championships.

Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski perform in the Figure Skating Pairs Short Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 11, 2014. Photo by AFP

Krasnopolski set his sights on the Sochi games. He began his preparations with Danielle Montalbano, but decided to switch partners last year, opting for Andrea Davidovich. The duo was ranked seventh in the last European Championships, and up until several days ago trained with Chait and coach Gennadi Krasnitski, putting the final touches on their routine.

The duo work in harmony and have full trust in each other, but as long as they communicate in Russian, Kasnopolski isn’t at ease. “Her parents lived in Israel for many years, and it’s somewhat aggravating that she doesn’t speak Hebrew. I want her to learn the language; we represent Israel so we should speak Hebrew. I tell her this almost every day.”

Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski after competing in the pairs free skate figure skating competition at Sochi, Feb. 2104.Credit: Reuters
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Israel's Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski compete during the Figure Skating Pairs Free Skating Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb. 12, 2014.Credit: Reuters
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Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski of Israel compete in the pairs free skate figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014.Credit: AP
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Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnopolski of Israel compete in the pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.Credit: AP