Recap of 2021-2022 Olympic Qualifying Season
October 2019- one week before my first time sliding as a member of Team Israel.
I hopped on a Skype call with AJ Edelman, Israel’s representative in Skeleton at the 2018 Olympics. At this point in time, I hadn’t raced an international skeleton event. My entire experience in the sport consisted of 3 partial development seasons in the USA program. That past season I finished in 13th place out of 14 at the USA National Championships in Lake Placid, the only track I knew.
AJ and I spent hours coming up with a 3-year plan to go from where I was at in my career at the time (nowhere), to representing Israel in the 2022 Olympic Games.
It would be a massive challenge, but we figured with the right plan, coaching, work ethic, and my natural sprinting ability, that it could be done.
Looking back, I actually ended up hitting the mark we set out fairly comfortably.
Unfortunately, the goal-post was moved.
In January 2020, the IOC and IBSF removed 5 male quota places in an effort to inch the Beijing Olympics closer to a 50:50 male to female participation ratio, despite the fact that the Men’s field is far larger and more competitive than the Women’s field in skeleton.
At this point, all I could do was continue to give 100%, and hope for perfect health and lucky scheduling along the way.
I finished the 2021/2022 season ranked 44th in the world. Israel’s best finish ever by a considerable margin. Easily Olympic-bound under the 2018 qualification system, but three spots out of qualifying in the current one.
Not making the Olympics is disappointing. But luckily for me, I can still call the past 3 seasons a major success - and not because of anything that I accomplished on the ice (although winning Israel’s first international podiums was fun).
It was a success because, at the top of the goal tree I drafted in October 2019, even above making the Games, my ultimate goal was to use the platform I would have as an Israeli athlete to influence people to support Israel, and to be a positive ambassador for the Jewish people.
Fast forward to my final race of the season - a World Cup race in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
I spent the week learning this new track with not only two swollen and black eyes from a crash the week before, but also the pressure of knowing I needed a nearly impossibly good result to keep my Olympic chances alive. I was picking the track up as well as I could given the circumstances and time restraints, but I needed something miraculous on race day. As I walked up to the start line and handed my jacket to a track volunteer, she smiled at me and said proudly, “Kol HaKavod” (All the honor/well done!).
I did not have my best run, and was far off the result I had hoped for. Returning back to the top of the track, knowing my Olympic chances were essentially over, my coach John Farrow was there to greet me. He acknowledged that I was right to feel disappointed in the moment, but to keep in perspective all that I accomplished in terms of what my true goals were. He pointed out what it said about the influence I’ve had in the sport that a random track volunteer in Switzerland would wish me well in Hebrew just before my run. Or how the day before, an announcer from a track in Germany I had never met before, posted a video explaining how he took the time and effort to learn how to say “The track is clear for Jared Firestone” in Hebrew, just for me.
I thought back on the past three seasons, and the opportunities I had to visit concentration camps in Dachau and Terezin and answer questions for people on the tours with me. To visit Olympiapark in Munich and share the stories of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were killed by terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games. To race a World Cup just a few kilometers from Hitler’s Eagles Nest in Berchtesgaden, with a giant Star of David on my helmet, and to light Hanukkah candles there the week before.
It finally made sense to me what AJ told me on that Skype call in October 2019:
It isn’t about the Olympics itself, but the journey to get there.
Thanks again to everyone who supported me along the way.