In this episode of ‘The Mental Series’, we approached the Israel Ski Team; they have defied the odds by proving that small nations with little to no snow can compete and beat some of the best skiers in the world. We spoke to the athletes to understand what mentality it takes to be the prejudiced as the underdog and still prosper above any judgement.
Israel is not a nation you would necessarily think of when naming the best alpine ski teams in the world. 2 years ago, the Israel Ski Team changed this ideology by making a historical mark in some of the toughest international races. For a country that has almost no snow, many were shocked to see the Israeli athletes achieve Youth Olympic Podiums and top 15 results at the 2021 World championships.
The Israel ski team consists of 4 young and prominent athletes. We took time to chat to a few of them, in order to understand the kind of mentality it takes to achieve such amazing results when competing against sporting nations whom are more experienced, more financially endowed, and especially geographically advantaged.
Itamar Biran, Israel’s fastest Slalom Skier and Olympian, had a breakthrough season by achieving 3rd and 9th place in the 2021 World Championship qualification rounds. Itamar grew up between Israel, the UK, and the Swiss alps and started showing potential in alpine skiing from a very young age. He is currently training under the wing of Livio Magoni, who brought home the most world cup wins out of any coach in history, and therefore is seen to have the potential to do the same. Itamar believes that being the ‘underdog’ can actually be advantageous when competing; “there are little to no expectations and therefore much less pressure than some of the stronger nation athletes. This allows me to feel more confident and therefore I can focus much more on performing compared to the others.” A blessing in disguise, perhaps? Itamar explains that skiing for a small skiing nation brings about a certain drive to improve and put the country on the ‘alpine map’.
By implementing this state of mind, Itamar approaches his career with a ‘nothing-to-lose’ mentality, which has so far proven to be very successful.
Noa Szollos, a rising Israeli star, made her nation proud when she brought home 2 Youth Olympic medal in 2020. This was a historic moment in both alpine skiing and Israel winter sports alike. Noa accentuates the fact that she sees past where she is from, and focuses purely on performance; “I want to prove I am a good athlete by the way I ski, not whether I come from a nation with or without snow”. Although Noa received a lot of harmful messages through social media after her performance at the Youth Olympics, she has made it clear that instead she focuses on the amazing support she receives from her friends, family, and coaches.
When asking Noa whether she feels she is disadvantaged when she competes against better financed and more developed ski nations, she expressed that there are flaws in each system: “The bigger nations are more complicated and political, whereas I have the advantage of making my own tactical decisions with my coach”.
It seems that Noa agrees with Itamar; a nation does not define a level of skiing, rather it is the drive, optimism and confidence that define your success. A positive mindset has allowed the Israeli athletes to covert a disadvantage into an advantage, which is a key tool for success in any industry.
Inclusivity and non-judgement is a very important ideology at VIST; we are not constrained by ethnicity or background, but rather by functionality and performance.