Courtesy of Arram Kim and AJ Edelman

For Olympian AJ Edelman SOM ’23, his favorite challenge is the next one.

Edelman, a four-time Israeli national champion in the skeleton event, competed in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and placed in the top 30. After the 2018 Games, he retired from skeleton to pursue an MBA at Yale, citing the dangers of “5G forces of pressure while going at 90 miles an hour” headfirst down a frozen track, but he later decided that he was ready for more — but in a different sport: bobsled.

Edelman is in the first year of a two-year leave of absence from the Yale School of Management and is now back training in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to try to catapult Israel’s bobsled team to its first Winter Olympics appearance in Beijing in 2022.

“I decided to start the [Israeli] bobsled team, and really shoot for … building an entire medal program for Israel,” Edelman said, referring to his efforts to revitalize Israel’s bobsled team after its founding 20 years ago. “Getting a team to Beijing would increase the amount of talent and funding that we might have in future exposure. So I took a look around and thought essentially that no one else could do this for Israel, so I’m obligated to do so.”

Edelman, who was the first Israeli citizen to compete in skeleton at the Winter Olympics, was also the first Orthodox Jew ever to participate in the Winter Olympics when he competed in 2018.

Four years earlier, Edelman graduated from MIT in 2014, where he majored in mechanical engineering and played Division III ice hockey as a goalie. After his graduation, he worked at Oracle before fully committing himself to skeleton. He said he used YouTube videos in lieu of a traditional coach to learn the techniques necessary to get to the next level, and he eventually qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics, finishing in 28th place.

Shifting gears to prepare Israel to have its first bobsled team at the 2022 Olympics was not something that Edelman even considered at first. In a recent LinkedIn post, Edelman said he “decided to risk it all,” and told the News he has taken out a “massive loan” and invested everything into the team after the program lost support from an original benefactor. He said he eats mostly barley and eggs in Korea to bring the cost of each meal down to about a dollar.

“During my time in South Korea, it hasn’t been the most happy-go-lucky time,” Edelman said. “Whenever you’re doing something with a greater purpose, it gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning … even if you want to curl up and quit. But, your country needs you and is giving you an incredible honor that you’ll never be able to repay.”

According to David Greaves, the president of the Israel Bobsleigh Skeleton Federation, the Israeli bobsled team is an established program that was originally incorporated in 2002. Greaves is a former bobsled competitor himself and competed in Israel’s first international bobsled competition in 2003 in Konigssee, Germany.

Greaves spoke to the News about Edelman’s impact on Israeli sliding sports and what made the former skeleton athlete want to come back and prepare Israel’s bobsled team for 2022. 

“Israel has been producing sliding sports athletes for 20 years, and AJ was the first one to break the pinnacle after 16 years and represent Israel on a global stage,” Greaves said. “For AJ, it was very difficult to move on from reaching his goal. [After] dedicating your life to something — which in his case, was to get Israel to the 2018 Olympics — you’re left wondering what to do.”

 

Edelman competed in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics as a skeleton athlete, finishing in 28th place (Photo courtesy of Kiseung Lee andAJ Edelman)

Greaves also said that Edelman originally decided to get an MBA from the Yale School of Management so he could help the federation from a management aspect, but that his “love of sport” and “love of Israel” kept him from retiring completely from sliding sports.

Kyle Tress ’21, a senior in the Eli Whitney Students Program, is another Winter Olympian who is a current student at Yale, along with figure skater Nathan Chen ’23. Tress was a 2014 Sochi Olympics participant for the United States in skeleton who was also left wondering what to do after retirement. Now majoring in applied mathematics and getting ready to graduate soon, Tress is grateful for the opportunity to attend Yale and feels fortunate that he was able to get into his top-choice school. Both Tress and Greaves described the feeling of “What’s next?” after achieving the ultimate goal of the Olympics.

Edelman credited his one year at Yale SOM — the 2019–20 school year — for giving him skills on how to manage and fundraise for a team. While skeleton is an individual sport, bobsled, which has been an Olympic sport since 1924, requires a great deal of coordination for both two-man and four-man races with the squad.

 

Edelman, in a bobsled above, is in the first year of a two-year leave of absence from the Yale School of Management and training in Korea. (Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Arram Kim and AJ Edelman)

Greaves also applauded Edelman for trying to bridge gaps between existing tensions in Israel through this unification of the team. He said Edelman helped recruit both Israeli Jews and Arab Israeli bobsledders to compete under the same flag as part of Israel’s two bobsled teams that are trying to qualify for the Olympics.

“It was a subtle opportunity to bring worlds together that, for the past few decades, have had tension between them,” Greaves said. “AJ wants to give us another opportunity to make it to the Olympics, so I thank him for his efforts.”

Edelman also expressed his gratitude to Yale SOM alumni and discussed how the value of a Yale education is “not just what you learn in the classroom, but the fact that you’re forever able to talk to another Yalie.” He explained how he would send emails to Yale SOM alumni around the country, trying to find ways to help fund the team.

“I feel a very strong connection to Yale, and the good that can come from being an effective alum in the future as I hope to be, but also, being a part of the [Yale] family is wonderful,” Edelman said.

Edelman, who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, is a dual citizen of America and Israel.

Dean Centa | dean.centa@yale.edu