Israel’s First Winter Olympian
Michael Shmerkin pictured in 2015. Photo: Aviator Sports

February 12, 1994

Figure skater Michael “Misha” Shmerkin becomes the first Israeli to participate in the Winter Olympics when he marches in the opening ceremonies in Lillehammer, Norway, after three days of travel: two by train and one by airplane. Shmerkin is the entire Israeli team. He takes the ice Feb. 17 and 19 in the men’s competition and finishes 16th.

“Every sportsman dreams of getting to the Olympic Games,” Shmerkin says in an interview before the games. “I asked for a blue-and-white uniform with ‘Israel’ on the back and a Star of David, and I wanted to carry the flag. I know the story of Munich. It is an honor and a responsibility to represent those athletes who died. It will be an enormous honor when I walk out there with the flag. It will mean that Israel starts a new level of sports.”

Shmerkin was born Feb. 5, 1970, in the Soviet Union and competed internationally for his native land until his family immigrated to Israel in 1991. Shmerkin then placed a list of wishes inside the Western Wall, and although he did not reveal his first seven wishes, he said the eighth was to skate in the Winter Olympics. This was in a country with only four ice skating rinks, each roughly the size of a swimming pool. Although Israel began competing in the Summer Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, it had never sent a team to the Winter Games.

“Not many people in Israel knew there was a Winter Games,” Shmerkin says. “Now at least some know, and Jews all over the world will see someone representing them.”

Shmerkin’s best international result is 11th place at the 1997 World Championships. He represents Israel again in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. He retires in 2000 and becomes a coach.