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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 9, 2018 2018:5 to w; A.J. Edelman of Israel Austria, Feb. 28, 2016. competing at the IBSF World Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images Championships in lnnsbruck, Jonathon Arena, Feb. Blum playing for the Nashville Predators at the 19, 2013. Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Tennessee city's Bridgestone :!ii ii ! Joosep Martinson/ISU/ISU via Getty Images Paige Conners skating with Evgeni Krasnopolski in Oberstdo~, Germany, Sept. 28, 2017. Jason Brown competing Jan. 6, 2018. at the U.S. Figure Skating Matthew Stockman/Getty Images Championships in San Jose, Calif By Gabe Friedman (JTA)--The world is about to revolve around PyeongChang, a mountainous county in the northern half of South Korea, for the upcoming Winter Olympics. Jewish fans won't have quite as many standout athletes to cheer for this year as they did in 2016, when multiple Ameri- can members of the tribe won medals at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. But there are several compelling Jewish stories to catch up on before the action starts. Israel is sending its larg- est team ever. Before this year, the larg- est Israeli delegation at a Winter Olympics was five. That shouldn't sound too surprising, given that over 60 percent of the country's landscape is desert, and it isn't the best place for Winter sports training. This year, however, the record will double. Seven of Israel's 10 repre- sentatives will compete in figure skating. That group is anchoredbyAlexei Bychenko, who in 2016 became the first skater to earn a medal for Israel at a European Champi- onships event. Bychenko, 29, who skated for Ukraine until 2009 and has been ranked as one of the top 10 male skaters in the world, is likely Israel's best chance to win a medal (and like U.S. Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman, Bychenko has been known to perform to "Hava Nagila"). The Jewish state is send- ing another kind of skater, too--the faster kind. Vladislav Bykanov, who won a bronze medal earlier this month at the European Champion- ships, will compete in speed skating. Itamar Biran, a 19-year-old born in London, will represent Israel in alpine skiing. This American never thought she'd do pairs skating--or compete for Israel. Paige Conners is having her Olympic dream come true in about the last way she expected. According to a video by 13WHAM, the ABC affiliate in Rochester, New York, the 17-year-old Conners was ill when she was supposed to try out for the U.S. figure skating team. With her hopes of competing in peril, her mother, who has Israeli citi- zenship, pointed out another opportunity: skating for the Israeli team. Conners jumped at the op- portunity, but Israel offered her a spot only if she competed in the pairs competition. She had never tried it before and figured she never would. But she quickly connected with Evgeni Krasnopolski, a 29 -year-old pairs veteran, and in barely six months after Con- ners adopted the new style, the duo performed well enough at the Olympic qualifiers in September to make the cut. "No one really believes it," she told 13WHAM. Israel's first skeleton Olympian calls himself the "Hebrew Hammer." A few years ago, A.J. Edel- man was an MIT graduate who worked as a product manager for Oracle. Now the Brookline, Massachusetts, native will get a chance to make history for Israel as he becomes the country's first skeleton Olympian next week, steering a flimsy sled down the track at the Pyeongchang Sliding Center. "I want to challenge the perception of what Jews and Israelis can do in sports," he told the Forward. He is also clearly a fan of the comedy film "The Hebrew Hammer," since he goes by the protagonist's nickname. While his teammates and friends love it, his mother apparently doesn't. A former NHL player gets another chance to play for the U.S. Jonathon Blum probably longs for the time he spent playing in the NHL. These days, the Jewish 29-year-old plays for a team in Vladivo- Quinn Rooney/Getty Images Short track speed skater Vladislav Bykanov, lower left, leading the Israeli Olympic team at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 7, 2014. stok, Russia--a city so re- its players participate in the theU.S.team'sfirstalternate. motethatflightsofsixhours Olympics to protect them But on the ice, the 23-year- or more are required to play from injuries. That opened old is known for skating to 24 of its 26 opponents. It is the door for non-NHL play- musicfrom"Riverdance"and closer to Alaska than it is to ers like Blum, a 6-foot-2 "Hamilton." St. Petersburg. defenseman who has played And who would have Blum, a former first-round on the U.S. team before, to thought that a certified Krav NHL draft pick, played for the represent his native country Maga instructor would skate NashvillePredatorsfrom2010 in South Korea. for Canada and not Israel? to 2012, again in 2012-13, Israel isn't the only Dylan Moscovitch helped and for the Minnesota Wild country sending Jewish Canada win a team silver for stints in the 2013-14 and skaters, medalinSochifouryearsago, 2014-15 seasons. Those cit- On the U.S. squad, lookout and he's back competing in ies are just a little closer to for Jason Brown if he gets a the pairscontestwithpartner where hegrewupin Southern chance toskate.Afteradisap- Liubov llyuschechkina. California. pointing performance at the The 2018 Winter Olympics This year, the NHL de- U.S. Figure Skating Champi- figure skating will be heldon cided that it would not let onships this month, Brownis Feb. 8.