Who are you cheering for at the Winter Olympics?
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The pickings might seem pretty slim for Jewish athletes in Sochi. The Israeli delegation is only sending a five-member team and few Jewish athletes from around the world have surfaced at the top just yet. But the American team does have some young Jewish stars worth keeping an eye on.
Hey, you never know.
Jared Goldberg has dreamed to ski at the Olympics since he was just four years old. By age six, he and his friends were holding bi-weekly races through the powdery mountains of Utah and at 13, he celebrated his bar mitzvah in a ski lodge.
Goldberg performed pretty well during the World Cup, only his second big race start of his career.
The first men’s downhill race is scheduled for February 9, with a promising weather forecast. At age 21, this will be Goldberg’s first time competing in the Olympics; but he’s zipped down Sochi’s 12.4-mile Olympic track before during practice and said the mountain was “probably among the coolest places I have ever been.”
It’s safe to assume Goldberg has brought his guitar along with him to Sochi — he says it travels the world with him.
An American hasn’t won an Olympic metal in cross-country skiing since 1976. But might this year’s 14-member team set a new record?
For Noah Hoffman, like many Olympians, making it on the U.S. Olympic team was a dream come true.
He believes this experience will serve as a gateway into a long and fruitful career. Hoffman is highly gifted and placed fastest in the final stage of the Ruka Triple late last year, which landed him the spot on Team USA.
Along with racing down the tracks, he also loves traveling with his team, which he says has spawned a new interest in his Jewish heritage. Last December he put together a Hanukkah party while on the road; he cooked the latkes.
“I am the only Jewish athlete on the team, and it was very fun to share a few traditions of the Jewish faith with my teammates, who are like my family on the road,” he said.
Hoffman will compete in three races: Sunday’s skiathalon, the 15k classic on February 14th and the 50k skate race on the final day of the games. He blogs about his career and travels at noahhoffman.com.
Last month, Jason Brown wowed a crowd at the National Championship, as the young athlete, not favored to win a spot on Team USA, wowed the audience with a stunning performance and took home the medal for his “Riverdance” free skate. His act, featured on Buzzfeed, went viral and earned him more than 3 million views on Youtube.
Now Brown, 19, is gearing up to represent the United States on the country’s 15-person figure skating team, one of the most watched Winter Olympic sports. Brown in part attributes his success to his Jewish upbringing.
Brown will take to Sochi’s ice rink on February 9. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonbskates or check out his official website.
It Takes a Pair
Simon Shnapir is already proving himself at the Winter Olympics. On the opening night, Shnapir and his partner Marissa Castelli earned a score of 64.25, landing them second place in the competition.
The 26-year-old pairs skater might not be the most well known name, but he has been gaining a lot of attention recently for it being his first competition in the country he was born. Shnapir’s mother recently told the Associated Press that their Jewish family fled the country for freedom in the United States while Shnapir was still young, amid the late 80’s wave of Jewish emigration out of the country. The trip might also turn into a bit of a family reunion, as a number of his relatives remaining in the country will head to Sochi to see Shnapir compete.
Shnapir and his partner Marissa Castelli landed a spot on the Olympic Team after winning their second national title at the U.S. Championships last month. Make sure to tune in when the partners perform again during Saturday night’s free skate. You can also follow him on Twitter @SimonShnapir.