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Friday, August 19, 2022
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Ice skating is a sport accessible to most, loved by many, but mastered by few. Hailey Kops is one of the masters; her love of skating, hard work and perseverance have helped her achieve her childhood dream. She will be skating in the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

It frequently surprises Kops that three years ago she never expected to skate competitively again, and now she is an Israeli Olympian.

Kops, who grew up in West Orange, has been skating since
childhood, coached by her mother, Lisa, a skating instructor, until she was 12. In those years, she competed in local individual-skating competitions. During the summers, Kops would train with Galit Chait, the head coach of the Israeli Skating Federation, who herself is a two-time Olympian. Kops secretly hoped that training with Chait might lead to something beyond local competitions.

When Kops was 13, she successfully auditioned for Israel’s pair skating team, and was partnered with Artem Tsoglin.

The fundamentals of singles and pair skating are the same. But pair skating has the added challenges of twists, throws and lifts, with coordinated jumps and spins. Making the move from a single to pair skater wasn’t scary or difficult for Kops. As a self-described “adrenaline junkie,” she loves the excitement of being thrown in the air. Plus, “going to a competition and getting on the ice by yourself is a lot scarier than getting on the ice with someone standing next to you,” Kops shared.

The long hours of practice, home schooling and an injury took their toll on Kops, and in 2019, after three years of skating with Tsoglin, Kops retired from competitive skating. She then completed high school and spent a gap year at AMIT, a seminary in Jerusalem.

Upon her return from her year in Israel, Kops intended to begin nursing school and was not thinking about skating competitively. Yet, man plans and God laughs, especially when you have a unique skill and the ability to use it to be a role model for your community. Only a few days after Kops’ return from Israel, the Israeli Skating Federation reached out to her about rejoining the team.

This time around, Kops had a better understanding of what she needed to enjoy her skating experience. Most important for Kops was not practicing on Shabbat. After spending time in seminary, Kops found her “spiritual balance,” at the center of which was spending Shabbat at home with family and friends.

“Being a religious shomer Shabbat athlete, it is nice that I can be that model for others, so they know that they can do it too,” Kops said.

In 2021 she was paired with Evgeni Krasnopolski, and they had only three months to prepare for the Olympic qualifiers. Kops hadn’t competitively skated for two years, so it was a rough start. In their first competition together, Kops and Krasnopolski placed last. But over the following competitions their scores and placement steadily increased.

Krasnopolski was born in the Ukraine and moved to Israel when he was 3 years old. He was a member of Israel’s first pair skating team and skated for Israel in both the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics.

When it came time for the Olympic Qualifiers in October 2021, Kops traveled with Krasnopolski and their coaches to Germany for Sukkot. Her parents brought their pop-up sukkah, lulav and etrog and joined them in Germany, where they were pleasantly surprised to be able to pop their sukkah up on their hotel room’s balcony.

At the qualifiers, Kops and Krasnopolski placed fifth after the short program and fourth after the long program, heartbroken and only one place out of Olympic qualification. However, mistakes made by the Chinese team enabled the pair to move up to third place and qualify for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics!

Kops says she has never enjoyed skating as much as she does now. That comes from her team valuing her religious beliefs. Kops feels very lucky that her team is respectful of her being shomer Shabbat and that she won’t have her phone with her or take pictures on Saturday. But she acknowledges that in the past, it wasn’t always that way. “I would say I am vegetarian because it was too uncomfortable to go into the whole kosher thing,” she said.

Kops is still trying to wrap her head around the idea of being an Israeli Olympic athlete and isn’t sure what to expect from competing in the Olympics. She shared her excited anticipation for the opening ceremonies and being in the Olympic Village. Of all the programs she has ever skated, the current ones are her favorites, intensifying her excitement for the Olympics.

Kops and Krasnopolski are a part of the 10% of Olympic hopefuls who have qualified for the Olympics. She said, “Being considered one of the top skaters in the world, while skating for Israel, and having that flag next to me while I skate is surreal,” and is something she will not take for granted.

By Danielle Barta

 

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