VANCOUVER – Until Mikhail Renzhin made aliya in 2002, he was part of the Ukrainian ski team. Since becoming Israeli, he has been able to maintain his practice schedule in Austria and most other aspects of his skiing routing.
But when he competes, he now must do so alone.
Renzhin is Israel’s only Olympic skier in a country with one mountain.
“It was more fun when it was a group,” he acknowledged, keeping warm in the athlete’s lodge at the Olympic Village in Whistler Saturday afternoon.
But even if he is his country’s only skier here, he isn’t entirely on his own. His father, who introduced him to skiing when he was three years old and coached him for many years, has made the trip to watch his son compete at the most prominent contest in the world.
“Now it’s great. We’re together at the Olympics,” Renzhin said.
“When he was little, I would go down first. Now he’s first, and I come down after,” Volodymyr Renzhin said with pride.
Reflecting on the long journey behind him and the two quick ones he will make in the slalom and giant slalom this week, the 32-year-old said the most difficult aspect of what he does is the work he must put in day in and day out.
“The hardest thing is to keep going day after day, even when the exhaustion hits,” he said.
But he added that it was “of course” worth all the effort and sacrifice when it meant achieving a spot at the Olympic games.
Though Renzhin has come in first at several individual country competitions held in European countries this winter, he doesn’t see himself having a shot at the medal. He came in 32nd and 37th in his two races in the Turin Olympics and is looking to repeat that performance.
Renzhin said he was hopeful that the conditions of the snow would improve and be less icy by the time he took to the course. He noted that he and other skiers from countries that don’t prioritize skiing were at a real disadvantage if the race were held on icy terrain.
Because that condition is hard to find to train on, only the skiers from the most well-funded programs – where they specially create icy runs for practice – have a great deal of experience on that terrain.
“If there are snowy conditions, there could be completely different results,” he argued.
In any case, Renzhin said that he’s been pleased with his training runs so far and will be delighted if he does as well on Tuesday as he has in practice.
Though his first race, the giant slalom, was originally scheduled to take place Sunday, weather caused its postponement. Saturday’s slalom is set to go off as planned.
Renzhin even said that the delay was helpful for him, because he felt ill when he arrived in Vancouver and has now had several days to recover.
“I’m at 95 percent and after tomorrow I’ll be at 100%,” he declared, just in time for the race.
His father won’t be the only one cheering him on as he comes down the mountain. He also has the support of many in the Vancouver Jewish community and further off around the world.
“I’m happy to be doing this for me and for my country, and Jews in the whole world,” he said. “If Israel is in the Olympics for alpine skiing, they’ll be happy, and if they’re happy, I’m happy.”