Lausanne, Switzerland

#OneHandDown               #ShortTrackSkating 

Short Track Speed Skating star Vladislav Bykanov is driven by a poignant ambition every time he steps on to the ice. Since making his debut on the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating stage during the 2005/06 season, the 29-year-old Israeli has been ploughing a lone furrow, representing not just himself but his entire country. Now established at the very top of his sport, the three-time ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships medal winner is adamant things will be different for his successors.

Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) ESTSSC 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1080709966

Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

“I am the last man standing,” he laughed. “At the moment there is not really anything going on with the sport (in Israel) because there are no real kids or competitions going on in Israel. I am hoping to start it and of course (with) me being on the news I hear people sometimes call my federation (Israel Ice Skating Federation) and ask, ‘Where can we start doing this sport?’. It’s great to hear that but at the moment there is nothing.”

Bykanov was born in Lviv, in the former Soviet Union, and moved to Israel as a five-year-old. Four years later an ice rink – for years the only Olympic-level rink in Israel – opened in Metula, near his house. While plenty of the youngster’s friends flocked with him to give skating a try, Bykanov was the only one to fall completely and utterly head-over-heels in love with Short Track Speed Skating.

It has been a long, tough road from that passionate kid to the elite-level competitor currently racing in rinks all over the world. For the first 11 years Bykanov made do with what he had on his doorstep, training as often as he could at Metula’s Canada Centre and supplementing it with occasional trips abroad.

On one such training camp in Calgary, Canada, the young Israeli met legendary Dutch coach Jeroen Otter. It changed his life. Within months he moved to the Netherlands and began a training stint with the Dutch national team that is now entering its ninth year.

Jeroen Otter (NED) WOG2018©Getty Images 915635748 (1)

Jeroen Otter (NED) at the Winter Olympic Games 2018©Getty Images

While the pioneer knows he has been fortunate to be able to pursue his dreams, his joy is tinged with sadness.

“Of course it has been lonely sometimes,” he said. “I have the Dutch that I train with but it’s not the same as having your own national team and having the Relay. Of course, I get a lot of positive things with it. I get to see the world, I get to see different levels of training. (It is) good and bad. You take what you have.”

Bykanov has risen steadily up the world rankings since relocating to the Netherlands, highlighted by a 1500m ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating win in his adopted homeland during the 2015/16 season. Now firmly established as a long-distance medal threat – the Israeli skater has three ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating podium finishes to his name in the past two-and-a-half seasons – Bykanov has a long list of personal ambitions to fulfill between now and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games. But, he is also interested in something bigger.

Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) ESTSSC 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 904775908

Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

“Maybe before the end (of my career) I will have something planned with them (the Israel federation) to start with me and get some kids and some coaches,” he explained. “They are definitely supporting everything I am doing and they would love to develop the sport.

“When I am done skating I would love to start producing more athletes for Israel. We are building a couple of new ice rinks around the country. There are more coming every couple of years. I hope I can be part of it.”

Interestingly the university student has his heart set on being right at the top of efforts to turn Israel into a Short Track Speed Skating powerhouse.

“Not coaching but I hope running the sport, developing it, (having) oversight,” he said. “Of course I want to put my experience into it and help the kids and the coaches but I would love to do more oversight. It’s also what I am studying – management and economics.”

As a man who lists Michael Edwards, AKA ‘Eddie the Eagle’, the British ski jumper who defied a lack of facilities and experience to compete at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Games, as his hero, Bykanov seems perfectly suited to the huge task of transforming Israel’s Speed Skating culture. For one thing, he certainly has the enthusiasm.

Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) WCSTSS USA2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1060377308

Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (USA) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“When you are in top shape and you get those high speeds and you are comfortable it’s just amazing, you can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s something you smile inside at.

“It’s not only about speed, it’s not only about technique, it’s your tactics, how you feel that day, how the ice is. If you take the same race and run it 20 times, you are going to have 20 different outcomes. It’s great, the unforeseen result.”

What kid could not be inspired by that?

Follow Bykanov during the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating event in Dresden (GER) from February 1 - 3 and make sure you don't miss any of the action by keeping in touch on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.