Where is the main Israeli skating rink? Why, in Paramus, New Jersey, of course! (There is one in Israel that is regulation-size, but it is located perilously close to the Lebanon border.) A bunch of Israeli hopefuls are training in and around Bergen County in anticipation of next month’s Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Although for some, a solid performance at the European Figure Skating Championships, which begin today in Estonia, stands in the way of an Olympics berth.
Israel has never won a Winter Olympics medal; the closest it came was in the 2006 games, when a mixed ice-dancing team finished sixth. But Efraim Zinger, the Israeli Olympic Committee’s secretary general, is nonetheless optimistic for this year: “We are not blessed with too many outstanding athletes,” he boasted. Wait, what???
Yes, folks, the buried lede here is the astonishing—and, to editorialize a tad more, disgraceful—lack of support these athletes are getting from their own country. It is not just those undermine-y comments. So far, the Israeli Ice Skating Federation has received roughly one quarter what the IOC has promised it. “Everything is a challenge,” says the Federation’s head (who resides in Paramus, natch). “No winter in Israel is one problem. Not being a sports country is another. It’s a challenge for funding, a challenge to get people to appreciate what our skaters have accomplished.”
Only two things, it seems to us, will change this: Either one of these competitors is going to have to win a medal, or someone is going to have to make Cool Runnings 2: Shalom Skaters! We would prefer the former. In the meantime, can someone please fire the Israeli Olympic Committee head?
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.