Ice Network

Chait helping Israeli skaters reach new heights

Former world bronze medalist preparing students for 2018 Olympic Games
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Galit Chait, pictured here with student Alexei Bychenko (center) and fellow coach Roman Serov, is helping to usher in an era of unprecedented success for Israeli figure skating. -courtesy of Galit Chait

Galit Chait understands the dedication needed to succeed at the highest level of figure skating.

With partner Sergei Sakhnovski, Chait won the bronze at the World Figure Skating Championships in 2002 -- the first medal won by Israeli skaters in the history of that event. Now, Chait has shifted her focus to helping her country reach unprecedented heights in skating as the head coach of its national figure skating team.

And based on some recent results, her hard work is already paying off.

With Alexei Bychenko's 10th-place finish at the 2017 World Championships and the 12th-place showing by the team of Isabella Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko, Israel has reserved two spots in men's and one in ice dance at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. And Chait and company still have their sights set on earning a spot in the pairs event.

Icenetwork recently spent some time with Chait -- a three-time Olympian herself -- to discuss the progress of skating in her native Israel, the difficulties of developing the sport in a small country and what she hopes to help the Israeli national team achieve in PyeongChang.

Icenetwork: When looking at the accomplishments of Israeli figure skaters in recent seasons, one can't help but take notice of the incredible progress that has been made. To what do you attribute this improvement?

Galit Chait: We've been working toward obtaining these kind of results for a long time, and we understand the surprise amongst the skating community. However, it has not been a complete shock for us; the training process, the way we build the foundation for skaters and the responsibility of the coaches and all those involved are carefully mapped out and given daily attention.

Many of the skaters have been with us for a while now, having left their families and countries in order to achieve the results we've seen in recent times. We're also in constant contact with [the Israeli Ice Skating] Federation, so I think these factors have certainly aided in our success.

Icenetwork: The development of figure skating in a country with limited success in the sport -- minus the ice dance discipline -- is a big deal. How did you decide to dive into such an unpredictable, difficult and demanding position?

Chait: The president of the Israeli skating federation, Boris Chait, who is also my father, always challenged me during my skating career. While I work with skaters and teams from different countries, helping the Israeli federation was a natural transition and a way to give back to the country. Being part of a skaters' development is always new and exciting.

Icenetwork: The main problems skaters from smaller countries most commonly face concern finances and the support, or lack thereof, of their own federations. Have you experienced these issues in Israel?

Chait: All the small federations have the same issues. Most of the time, the problem is not the federation but the national sports authorities. They're trying to build the pyramid from the top, not from the bottom. The federation is fighting for money every day. Assistance from the parents of skaters, and additional help from my family, is always a bonus.

Icenetwork: What were your impressions of the last competitive season? As a coach, were there any performances, both national and international, that stood out to you?

Chait: First, I was very proud of how all my skaters performed this year, especially Alexei Bychenko, who fought through the whole season and delivered a strong performance at the world championships, which helped us secure two spots at the Olympics. The men's competitions surpassed anything I have ever seen before as well.

The performance by the Chinese pairs team of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han in Helsinki was also exquisite, and their technical elements and choreography were of such a high standard. It was spectacular.

Icenetwork: This past season, the complexity of programs, especially in singles skating, was at a very high level. As an ISU technical specialist, what do you think about that? Were the components scores for some performances lost in the process? If so, what should skaters and their coaches do to prevent these issues in the future?

Chait: As a technical specialist, I can say that the quality of the dance competition has reached a heightened level. It is sometimes very difficult to combine the artistic and technical sides with all of the new rules. There is no recipe for achieving this, but we try to get choreographers from ballroom dance, Broadway and other outlets to help us find a different approach to presenting our ideas. In my opinion, the direction has been good.

Icenetwork: Looking back on your competitive years, which experiences were the most memorable to you?

Chait: I had so many memorable moments, including competing in three Olympic Games, being the flag bearer at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, winning bronze at the world championships and earning many Grand Prix medals. The events were all amazing.

Icenetwork: What are some of the things you've picked up over the years?

Chait: I learned something very important from each coach I worked with. I especially loved working with Tatiana Tarasova because the energy and ideas she brought to each practice were unparalleled. She taught me that every athlete is different and needs a personalized approach. I hope to pass her teachings on to my athletes in the hopes that they'll be able to achieve great things on the ice.

Icenetwork: How much has ice dancing changed since you competed with Sergei Sakhnovski?

Chait: Every generation has had its own talents and certain level of technique. As the rules have developed, the technical level has evolved and brought the skaters' performance to new heights. The dance event at last year's world championships was something I've never witnessed, and it made the competition so unpredictable. The top teams are doing a great job of combining the artistic flow of the programs with the technical side.

Icenetwork: We see now that the ISU is trying to reform different aspects of figure skating. What things would you like to see changed moving forward?

Chait: I like the direction that skating is heading. The only concern I have is about the quads that are dominating the men's competition, and the throw quad in the pairs competition. A lot of skaters have been injured, and this is a problem.

Icenetwork: What are your plans for the offseason? Will you be working with new skaters or teams?

Chait: We have choreographed all the programs for the new season and, as an ISU technical specialist, I have helped a few different international teams with their elements. It's a process building up to the Olympic season.

Icenetwork: What goals and expectations will you lay out for the Israeli team this season in preparation for PyeongChang?

Chait: Qualifying two men's spots at the Olympics in South Korea was a goal we were working toward the whole season. Israel qualified one dance spot as well, which is very good. In September, we will travel with the pairs team in hopes of earning a spot in that discipline. It would be phenomenal if we qualified!