Putting Israel on the Winter Sports Map

(ATR) Alpine skier Noa Szollos wins the country's first medals in a Winter YOG or Winter Olympics.

(ATR) Noa Szollos can certainly be proud of her accomplishments at Lausanne 2020, racing to Israel’s first-ever alpine skiing medals at a Winter Youth Olympics or Olympic Winter Games.

Szollos didn’t finish her first run of slalom at the Les Diablerets Alpine skiing venue on Tuesday, but her bronze and silver medals in the women’s super-G and alpine combined over previous days are a cause for celebration for the Middle Eastern country.

"It’s crazy – I never thought that this would be such a successful week," Szollos told Around the Rings in the Les Diablerets finish area. "I was hoping for the best, but I didn’t actually think that I could accomplish this. Standing on the podium twice was an amazing feeling that I really can’t describe."

Szollos holds dual Hungarian and Israeli citizenship but opts to compete for the latter. A seven-time Hungarian national champion, she made the transition to compete for the Israeli ski team in 2018.

Noa’s father Peter is also a dual citizen and raced on the FIS World Cup circuit representing Israel in the 1990’s. She has two brothers who also compete for Israel.

Her father’s best World Cup finish was 18th in a slalom in St. Moritz in 1995. Peter also competed in four events at the 1993 World Championships in Morioka, Japan.

In addition to having coached Israeli skiers, he also briefly served in the Israeli military.

Noa currently trains in Austria, where she lives along with her parents. She spends summers in Hungary and hopes to visit Israel more regularly, especially now that she has attained two medals for the Israel NOC.

"I’ve been there a few times and we have lots of friends there because my dad used to be a ski coach there," Szollos said. "It’s nice, there are some familiar people there, but I don’t visit too often.

"I’ve been invited to go there and train at the Olympic training center in Wingate so I’ll probably go in summer, train for a few weeks and I think that will be very helpful to meet some of the other Israeli athletes there," she said.

Szollos is one of three Israeli athletes competing at the Lausanne YOG, the others being figure skater Nikita Kovalenko and ski cross racer Maria Shcherbakovskaya.

Israel first competed at the Olympic Winter Games in Oslo, Norway in 1952 and has sent athletes to all Games since then except Moscow 1980. Ten athletes competed under Israel’s flag at the PyeongChang 2018 Games, the nation’s largest contingent ever.

Israel has netted nine medals (including one gold) at the Summer Olympics in events such as sailing, judo and canoeing, but has never earned a medal at the senior Winter Games. Israeli winter athletes have participated in alpine skiing, figure skating, skeleton and short track speed skating.

Szollos aims to inspire future Israeli ski racers from the warm weather nation.

"It would be great, but of course winter sports are not as popular there," Szollos said. "There are some opportunities to ski, but only for a short period of time because we don’t have that long of a winter there.

"It would be great to meet some people to give them encouragement, not only for skiing, but other sports also."

Considering her achievements here at the Winter YOG, Szollos aspires to race on the FIS World Cup circuit, following in the ski boots of her father.

"I think I have a good chance if I keep training like this – my coach is very helpful and an amazing coach," she said. "I’m very thankful for him, and everyone else – my family and the people in Israel who have helped me."

Sweden Wins Double Slalom Gold

It was a Swedish sweep in slalom on Tuesday in Les Diablerets.

Emma Sahlen of Sweden won the women’s slalom after first run leader Lena Voelken of Switzerland dropped time in her second run and crossed the line 0.16 behind.

Sahlen’s teammate Adam Hoftstedt was victorious on the men’s side, winning the slalom by an enormous margin of 1.32 seconds over nearest challenger Luc Roduit of Switzerland.

Swiss Amelie Klopfenstein has been the darling of alpine skiing and perhaps the entire Lausanne 2020 Games having sped to two golds and one silver medal for the home nation.

The 17-year-old was an alternate on the Swiss Alpine team and was only afforded the opportunity to start in the opening super-G after a teammate became sick. Klopfenstein, who races for the Romand Bienne Ski Club near Bern, was more than ready on short notice, winning the race by .08 seconds.

"There wasn’t any pressure coming in so I just had to ski and have fun," she said after winning her second gold and third medal in the women’s GS.

"We are a country with many skiers who are so good, and many girls were better than me coming in.

"It’s really so nice to be here and share everything in Les Diablerets with family and friends.

"It is just like a dream," she said.

Klopfenstein noted that her skiing idols include Mikaela Shiffrin, Alexis Pinturault and fellow Swiss Wendy Holdener.

With the individual alpine races now in the books, Switzerland is tops in the medal count with six medals, including two gold.Sweden and Austria are tied for second, both with three medals including two gold.

Alpine skiing at Les Diablerets concludes with the Parallel Mixed Team Event on Thursday.

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Lausanne

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