The bare bones of Israeli bobsleigh and skeleton

ByJERUSALEM POST SPORTS STAFF
February 17, 2012 05:01

The history of the Israeli Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation is similar to the history of the State of Israel.




The Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com News. (photo credit:JPost Staff)

The history of the Israeli Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation is fittingly similar to the history of the State of Israel.

It began as an unlikely dream, endured brushes with disaster, and made it to where it is today with the help of unlikely allies, and the sweat and tears of many inspired and relentless men and women.

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It began with Aaron Zeff, a former F-4 Phantom Pilot in the United States Air Force, getting a rush of adrenaline (and perhaps nostalgia) watching the bobsled competition, in the 2002 Winter Olympics, in Salt Lake City. Zeff called his friend John Frank, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL.

“John, you need to listen to this,” Zeff yelled into his phone as a sled roared past. “That was a bobsled, and I think we need to try this.”


Within the next few months, the newly formed Israeli Bobsled Team had received the green light from the Israeli National Olympic Committee (NOC), to represent Israel in competition as a member nation of the Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Toboggan (FIBT), the international body that governs the two Winter Olympic sports.

In the fall of 2002, Zeff and Frank crashed their sled countless times on the track at Calgary while participating in FIBT Driver School.

Worse still, the crashes took Zeff out of commission with a compression fracture in his spine, leaving Israel 1 without a driver.

Still defiant and persevering, Zeff called his friend David Greaves, a native of Winnipeg, and recruited him to serve as Frank’s brakeman.

With Frank piloting the sled for the first time, Israel 1 promptly crashed again.

Rattled but otherwise high on adrenaline, Greaves opted to hang around for Zeff to recover from his injuries.

Nearly two months later, Zeff’s doctors cleared him to get back behind the controls of Israel 1.

Under the coaching of New Zealander Ross Dominikovich, on those same treacherous curves of Calgary Olympic Park, Zeff and Greaves successfully completed one run and then many more runs. The two Israeli bobsledders logged 10 successful trips down the track that week, each night phoning Frank to share in their elation.

One year after that first phone call from Salt Lake City, Zeff, Frank and Greaves were making Aliyah in May of 2003.

Later that year in November, with Zeff and Greaves aboard, Israel 1 made its debut in the Americas Cup Race, in Park City, Utah.

Israel 1 competed all across North America that season, and coming into the final AC race in Lake Placid, was poised to qualify for World Championships.

Zeff arrived several days ahead of the others, and was hosted by Andy Teig, a local EMT who would later join the team as a Bobsledder. Living five minutes from the Lake Placid track, Teig volunteered to fill in as a brakeman for the training runs.

Even Lloyds of London wouldn’t have insured the Israel 1 sled that season, with the amount of abuse it withstood.

On the final day of training before the race, the dutiful sled finally snapped in half, leaving the team without a sled on the eve of the big race day.

“The Wolf”, as Teig was called, loaded up the mangled sled onto his truck, took it home, and welded all through the night. Israel 1 made it down the track twice the next day, placing fifth out of 19 teams and qualifying the team for World Championships, three weeks later in Königssee, Germany.

Since that inaugural season, the IBSF members have endured their fair share of bumps and crashes. But they have never looked back, and are still on that track towards making their Olympic debut.

In 2010 Bradley Chalupski joined the federation as the lone skeleton racer.

“I have known no greater honor in my life than representing Israel at the 2011 FIBT World Championships in Königssee, Germany.”

In December 2011, Chalupski earned Israel its first medal in skeleton at the America’s Cup in Lake Placid, NY and will be competing in the world championships later this month, also in Lake Placid.

“It’s an incredible honor to win a medal for an entire nation. I feel thankful, proud and amazing,” said Chalupski.

Greaves, now the Secretary- General of the IBSF, had this to say: “News of Bradley’s first medal and our Federation’s first ever skeleton medal will now sit alongside our bobsled medals and will help blaze a trail for other young athletes.

Bradley and Israel and all Jewish sports enthusiasts should be proud.”

“My goal is to represent Israel in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia,” exclaims Chalupski, with not even a hint of arrogance. “With a spot secured on the FIBT World Cup circuit, that goal is also squarely in my sights.”

For more information on the IBSF or Bradley Chalupski’s quest to qualify for the Olympics, please visit www.israelibobsled.com, email [email protected] or follow on Twitter: @TeamIsraelSkele

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