Orthodox NJ Girl will represent Israel at the Beijing Olympics in an ice skating competition | The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com | Josh Hasten | 19 Tevet 5782 – December 22, 2021

Photo credit: KrPhotogs Photography LLC. (JNS)

Hailey Kops competing.

(JNS) In a true ‘Cinderella story,’ 19-year-old Hailey Kops, an observant religious athlete from West Orange, NJ, prepares to compete against the world’s best ice skaters while proudly representing Israel at the Winter Olympics of 2022 in Beijing. .

Kops and his 33-year-old partner, Evgeni Krasnopolski, recently qualified for the pair skating competition at the Olympics, to be held next February. They defied the odds when they finished in the top three at an Olympic qualifying event in Germany, clinching their tickets to China, as they had only been training together as skating partners for three months .

In an interview with JNS, Kops said her journey to the Olympics began at age 3, when she first laced her skates and walked on the ice as her mother Lisa , a figure skating champion and coach, would lead skating practice sessions.

At the age of 6, Kops was already waking up around 5 a.m. to practice skating before school. She would then go to school and return to the rink after class to practice more. A few years later, his talent begins to attract attention.

“Once I started competing I realized I had a love for performance with competition and adrenaline, and around the age of 11 or 12 one of my coaches [at the time] said to me, ‘I’m going to take you to the Olympics.’ And others started saying I had a lot of potential in the sport,” Kops said.

When she was 13, the Israel Ice Skating Federation invited her to try out for Team Israel. The federation happens to hold its year-round training near its home in New Jersey, as Israel has limited ice skating facilities.

Out of convenience and love for Israel, Kops tried out, made the team, and soon after obtained his Israeli citizenship.

“I always dreamed of skating for Israel. As a religious Jewish girl raised in modern Orthodoxy, I know that Israel is our home. It was always part of my plan to try to skate for Israel,” she said.

Skating became such an integral part of her life that Kops was homeschooled throughout high school in order to focus on her passion.

But in 2019, after finding success at international level, Kops – who had suffered several knee injuries and missed out on experiences as a teenager – decided to step away from the sport as his heart wasn’t fully in it.

“I didn’t go to high school and didn’t have a normal teenage life, so I decided to hang up my skates. It wasn’t fair to my team if I wasn’t ‘all in’ anymore,” she said.

Yet after attending a religious seminar in Israel in 2020-21 for his gap year after high school last June, on his first day home, Kops received a call from the head of the Israel Ice Skating Federation. Boris Chait, who said Krasnopolski was in desperate need of a partner to try to qualify for the third Olympics.

Kops agreed to dust off their skates after two years off the ice and come out of retirement, and despite the extremely short window the pair managed to qualify, finishing ahead of some of the best skaters in the world, including Chinese powers. and Belarusians. .

“[Kops and Krasnopolski] made history by qualifying for the Olympics after only training together for three months,” Chait told JNS. “Usually couples have to be together for years and years. They did it by beating very competent teams.

Kops said of his partner: “I have so much respect for him and he’s a super talented skater. The fact that I have the opportunity to skate with a three-time Olympian is incredible in itself.

She added, “We were friends before, so we had that friendship base when we started skating together. I think it’s super important in a partnership when there’s mutual respect, it makes things so much easier. And he helped me so much to prepare because he has so much experience and he’s been through this before.

Last week, the duo were in Israel for the country’s top skating competition before returning to the United States to continue training. In January, they will compete in the European Championships before the final preparations for the Olympics.

Another challenge Kops has faced throughout her journey is her keeping the Sabbath. As a result, she would walk to the rinks if a competition was held on a Friday night, and her family would contact local Chabad emissaries to help with housing, food, or other religious needs.

Kops said she was forced to balance the Orthodox Jewish world and the world of competitive skating at the same time. However, while she said it was a very difficult challenge at first, over the years she has learned to adapt.

She explained, “It’s good for me to feel that I can still be religious and be competitive. In the past it was very difficult, but now it’s normal for me to keep Shabbat, to keep kosher, and it’s something I really want to hang on to.

Regarding her expectations at the Olympics, Kops said a podium finish would be very difficult for a new team, but they will be there to give their all.

“My personal goal is to skate cleanly, get to finals and try to get a medal,” she said. “Every time I step on the ice, whether it’s for a small or a big competition, I try to do the best I can.”

Chait added: “Only 19 pairs from all over the world have made it to the Olympics. Reaching the Olympics is already considered a ‘victory’ and a lifetime achievement.”

Kops’ mother Lisa and father Steven are his biggest fans. They have traveled with her to competitions around the world and were in Germany when the pair qualified for the Olympics.

“I think every parent wants their kids to pursue their passion and their dreams, no matter how big, challenging, and potentially unreachable those dreams are,” Steven told JNS, noting that Hailey representing Israel “has been the greatest honor. for us as a family.”

He added: “Two of my three siblings live in Israel and we also have a lot of extended family in Israel. I don’t think there will be a dry eye in the room when Hailey and her fellow Israeli athletes walk out in the opening ceremonies carrying the Israeli flag and wearing the Israeli flag on their jackets.

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