Hailey Kops is a name that the ice skating world has become very familiar with over the past few months but as the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics approach so have Israeli sports aficionados. Kops, who was born in New York City will proudly represent Israel in February when the games head to China as the 19 year old will garner attention both in the Holy Land and the Tri-State area for also being an Orthodox Jew.
Israel is definitely not one of the most well known countries for producing Winter Olympians and usually sends no more than a dozen athletes to the games where they would be able to compete in various skating events both in the realm of figure skating as well as speed skating in addition to skiing. Last Olympic Games, Israel sent its first Orthodox male in AJ (Adam) Edelman, originally from Boston, who took part in the Skeleton. In most cases, Israel relies on immigrants from North America and the former Soviet Union in order to make their mark on the ice or in the snow and that is the case yet again with Kops.
Kops, who began skating as a toddler, honed her trade with the help of her mother Lisa and with the support of her father Steven. In 2016, Kops began skating under the Blue & White flag when she competed in a variety of junior championships with former partner Artem Tsogin.
Following some time off and after a year at a Women’s Seminary in Israel, Kops decided to attempt to qualify for the Olympics in pairs with veteran skater Evgeni Krasnopolski. The Kiev, Ukraine born Krasnopolski competed in the 2014 Sochi games as well as the 2018 Winter Olympics held in South Korea and would now look to qualify for his third Olympics with a new partner that was also 14 years his junior.
However, the age difference was a non-factor as the pair got to work and for three months took aim at one goal and one goal only; advance to the Olympics and fulfill a lifelong dream in the process.
In late September of this past year, Kops and Krasnopolski headed to Oberstdorf, Germany where the International Skating Union (ISU) designated the 2021 CS Nebelhorn Trophy the official figure skating qualification competition for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games being held in Beijing, China.
The tournament in Germany would determine some of the competitors for the Men’s, Women’s, Pairs and Ice Dance disciplines as Israel had representatives in the Women’s category with Taylor Morris and Ice Dance in Shira Ichlov and Laurent Abecassis who joined Kops and Krasnopolski in attempting to qualify for the Games. Alexei Bychenko who had already been a part of the 2014 and 2018 Games while also being the flag bearer at the opening ceremonies in South Korea was automatically allocated a place at the Beijing Olympics.
While Morris finished a solid 13th out of 36 competitors and the Ichlov and Abecassis duo ended in 10th place out of 20 teams, their performances were not good enough to punch their ticket to Beijing as Kops and Krasnopolski looked to join Bychenko in China.
After a 7th place finish in the short program, the pair ended the free skate long program in 4th place which was good enough for 5th overall and the final spot in pairs skating.
Participating in the Olympics as an Orthodox Jew brings on its own challenges and Kops will be balancing that with being on the grandest stage of them all. Whether it will be Shabbat, keeping Kosher or being in a Jewish environment, those will all be challenges that Kops will face.
AJ (Adam) Edelman was Israel’s first Orthodox Winter Olympian when he took part in the 2018 Games in the Skeleton and received tons of support both from the Israeli delegation providing him with Kosher food and anything else he needed to maintain his Orthodox lifestyle. He was also very much aware that he would have the responsibility to conduct himself appropriately as a Jew and that he could be a light upon the nations. Kops now has that same opportunity in Beijing as Edelman did four years ago as she will be able to inspire Jewish women and men around the world.
While the chances of winning a medal and standing on the podium at the Winter games are slim, there are goals that have been set by the Israel Olympic Committee which is to advance to the finals of the competition. With 16 of 19 pairs that will be competing making it to the finals there will always be a chance to do something special, but you’ve got to be in the position to do just that.
Fittingly, Kops and Krasnopolski musical score for the long program is “The Impossible Dream” sung by Don Quixote in the Broadway show “Man of La Mancha”. While Kops has already checked off one impossible dream in making it to the Olympic Games, there’s no reason to believe that she can’t continue to make the impossible, possible as she goes for Gold in Beijing.