Israeli skeleton athlete sets up shop in Calgary

Skeleton athlete Georgina Cohen (Photo Credit: Adam Taber)

Skeleton athlete Georgina Cohen has a mission: she wants to represent Israel at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“My dad picked up bobsled at 50, we thought it was a midlife crisis, but that’s how I was introduced,” said Cohen. Her family is from Cambridge, England, and she was invited by the Royal Navy Skeleton Team to give the sport a try in Austria in 2014. “They sized me up for skeleton and, over a week, I fell in love with the sport,” she said.

She was later chosen to represent her people’s homeland of Israel. She made aliyah in 2018 and found a place in Tel Aviv. She trains in Israel during the summer, but it’s not exactly an on-ice regimen. “I spend a lot of my time at the gym in Wingate, or sprinting on the beachfront in Tel Aviv – a skeleton athlete needs to be strong and fast,” she said.

Those are things she is able to work on in Israel, but she also needs the on-ice technique practice that her European and North American competitors get. That’s why she has been spending a lot of time at the Canadian facilities at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. She also spends a lot of time in Whistler, B.C., training on the track that was built for the 2010 Olympic Games.

Cohen is well versed in many different tracks around the world, but Whistler is her favourite. “It’s so fast and technical at the same time, it suits my style perfectly,” she said about Whistler, where she won gold at last season’s BC Cup race.

When she hit the ice donned in Israel’s blue and white speed suit, Cohen became the first female Israeli ever to compete in an IBSF World Championships skeleton race. What made it even sweeter was the fact that the race landed on International Women’s Day, a very significant day for her.

The toughest part about racing at an elite level in a sport that is not well known is the lack of funding. “I could be racing on the intercontinental circuit right now, but I only have enough to compete continentally,” said Cohen.

Last season, which was her first, she funded her travels, coaching and life by working a full-time job at the University of Cambridge and by collecting donations through a GoFundMe page. That made her enough money to get her through the season, but it was not sustainable if she wanted to get to the top of the skeleton racing world.

This season, her approach has changed. She is living in Calgary and racing full time and has signed on with a few small sponsors while she continues to work remotely. She is actively soliciting other sponsorship opportunities and collecting donations through her website, as well.

While she has been able to fund herself so far, if she wants to make it to the next level, it will take some financial boosting. “The sponsorships have been very helpful and the more help which I get, the closer I can get to my goal,” she said, stressing that things such as being able to afford coaching and transport can be the difference between qualifying for a race and sitting on the sidelines.

If she is to qualify for the Olympics, she will have to be in the Top 25 in the world come the cutoff date, something that is only possible if she begins racing intercontinentally.

She has been an advocate for both Israelis and women in sport. It would mean a lot to her to compete in 2022. The Beijing Games will be the first where there are will be an equal number of male and female competitors in the sport, rather than the five extra sliders that were previously gifted to the men.