Bradley Chalupski has pushed himself to the competitive edge by risking life and limb in one of the Winter Olympic’s more dangerous sports: skeleton sledding.
So it stung all the more when he came tantalizingly close to representing Israel in the skeleton sledding competition in the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Chalupski, a Marlboro, N.J., native who has competed in the sport on an international level for the last seven years, made aliyah in 2012 after being approached by sledding advocates who hoped he would consider representing Israel in this year's Olympics.
“I decided I was going to put my faith in my heritage and my friends and family who were saying ‘It’s O.K.’,” said Chalupski, who describes himself as a secular Jew.
His attempt to represent a hot-weather country in a cold-weather sport was reminiscent of the Jamaican bobsled team that defied the odds to qualify for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary and inspired the comedic film Cool Runnings.
Like the Jamaicans, who faced bureaucratic issues on top of the unlikelihood of their qualifying at all, Chalupski faced a steep uphill battle to make it to the Olympics. But the 29-year-old’s bid fell short when the National Olympic Committee of Israel made it clear that they would not sign off on him because the country does not have an official bobsled and skeleton program. Athletes wishing to represent Israel in the Olympics must be members of an official federation in their sport.
The day before Thanksgiving, a representative of the NOC called Chalupski to reiterate what the committee had been saying since he made aliyah and kickstarted his Olympic push — it was not ready for a skeleton sledding competitor. The only promise the NOC would make, according to Chalupski, was that it would work with him toward representing Israel in the 2018 games.
The NOC did not respond to email and phone messages.
After that call, Chalupski dropped out of international competitions and his ranking fell far below the minimal No. 60 he needed to qualify. As a result, his overall world ranking has dropped to 114th, down from the 70s, where he spent much of the season. His career-best ranking came in the 2011-12 season, when he ranked as high as 60th in the world.
“From the beginning we told him it was a long shot, but he decided that he wanted to put his life on hold and pursue a dream,” said David Greaves, the volunteer president of the Israeli Bobsled and Skeleton Federation who actually resides in Winnipeg, Canada.
Though Chalupski lauded Israelis for showing him “enthusiam and kindness” since he immigrated in 2012, there have been a few detractors along the way who questioned his motives for making aliyah. He said he has been the subject of negative tweets on Twitter and that he often finds insulting comments beneath articles published about his story.
Chalupski bristles at the assertion that he only moved to Israel in order to make it easier to qualify for the Olympics. (There are a certain number of spots in each event of the Winter Games that are reserved for competitors from warm-weather countries.)
“I’ve heard the terms ‘false aliyah’ or ‘opportunism’ thrown around, but that’s not really the case at all,” he said. “I didn’t pack up my suitcase and leave.”
Since making aliyah with his fiancée — 32-year-old Chana Anolick, also from New Jersey — Chalupski said he has made Jerusalem his home. His personal life reflects the dichotomy of his dual affiliation as an American and, more recently, as an Israeli.
This coming November, Chalupski and Anolick will have two wedding ceremonies: a religious wedding in Israel and a secular wedding in the United States, at the skeleton training track in Lake Placid, N.Y. Afterwards, they plan to return to Israel.
“For now, this is our home, and we’re planning on staying,” Chalupski said.
He also said he plans on taking the NOC up on its offer to get a bobsled and skeleton program off the ground in time to make a run at the 2018 Olympics. Though he expressed doubts about competing himself by that time, Chalupski added that he hopes he can help groom someone even better than himself to represent Israel.
According to Greaves, Chalupski is the man to get the program off the ground.
“He’s a pretty intense guy, a pretty committed guy,” Greaves said, praising the sledder's “relentless” energy both on and off the track. “He’s going to be successful no matter what he does.”
For this Olympics at least, Chalupski will be resigned to spectator status, though he hasn’t decided yet if he can stomach watching the games after trying so long and so hard to be a participant.
“I have a lot of friends that are going to be competing,” he said. “I have a feeling I’ll end up watching it, but it will be tough.”
He received some tentative offers from Israeli T.V. news channels to commentate for the Olympics, but his still-improving Hebrew skills ultimately proved to be too much of a stumbling block.
Why would anyone choose to participate in a sport that sends you hurtling headfirst down a mile-long ice track with almost no protection?
“It’s incredibly challenging, it’s incredibly fun, and you’re making a thousand split-second decisions while you’re flying down the ice at 85 miles per hour,” Chalupski responded. “It’s a dance with gravity.”
Israel has five atheletes competing in the 2014 Olympics in figure skating, speed skating and slalom skiing. The opening ceremonies commenced on Feb. 7.