In only their second year of international competition the Israeli national curling team was just one win away from a historic medal at the European Championships last week in Esbjerg, Denmark. In the end the upstart Israeli curlers lost to Austria for a chance to play Denmark for the gold medal. They then had to face Latvia for a chance at bronze and they again came up short, going home with fourth place, which is an unprecedented result for such a new team to the sport. This moves them up to No. 34 in the world.
In the round robin stage Israel advanced to the playoffs with a 4-3 record, winning a tiebreaker for third place. The team recorded victories against England, Slovakia, Croatia and Estonia while losing to Latvia, Austria and Spain. With the field divided into two groups of eight, the top three teams in each group qualified for the playoffs. Israel’s path to third place was decided in a tie-break game with England, which also finished the round robin with a 4-3 record. Israel went on to defeat England in the tiebreaker to secure third place and a match with Lithuania as the No. 2 team from the other group.
After defeating Lithuania in a tense game requiring an extra end, Israel moved one game closer to a medal. This time they would face a strong Austrian team that also already defeated Israel in the round robin. Unfortunately, the Israeli curlers just didn’t have enough to get by the Austrians and were out of the gold and silver, turning their sights to Latvia for a chance at bronze.
Latvia seemed to have Israel’s number in this event, too, having beaten them in the round robin. After losing again to Latvia for the bronze medal, Israeli skip Adam Freilich said, “We gave it our all this week and we came away with a great result. I think we moved Israeli curling in the right direction and I hope we can get the support of the right people in Israel to move this sport even further and make a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.”
Israel Curling Federation President Alex Tripolsky said, “This has been a tremendous year for Israeli curling and we hope to build on this success with more growth and development of what is the fastest growing winter Olympic sport in the world.”
Joining the team this year was Russian-born curler Leonid Rivkind. He was born and raised in Kaliningrad, Russia, a city along the Baltic Sea. He grew up in a curling family with his father coaching and working with the Russian Curling Federation. Leonid took to curling late in his teens after being a competitive swimmer. In August Leonid made aliya, following his sister and grandparents. Settling in an immigrant absorption center in Ra’anana, he trained with the Israeli wheelchair curling team in Bratislava, Slovakia, then in November traveled to train and compete in curling halls in both the United States and Canada. This all culminated with an emotional opening ceremony as he served as the flag barer for the European Curling Championships.