MIT alumnus to compete in Winter Olympics

AJ Edelman ’14 will compete in the men's skeleton for Israel during the 2018 Winter Olympics on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 8:00 p.m. EST. Watch the men's skeleton races live online at the NBC Olympic Channel.

AJ Edelman '14 caught the Olympic bug while watching the Olympic bobsled trials in the Burton 2 lounge in 2013. Photo: Charlie Booker

A club hockey player at MIT and former competitive body builder, Edelman caught the Olympic bug while watching the Olympic bobsled trials in the Burton 2 lounge in 2013. Learning more about the bobsled led to an interest in the specialized skeleton race, and after a test run in 2014 he became hooked on the sport.

“I wanted to keep playing sports after I left MIT,” Edelman says. “Skeleton is an eye-catching sport and seemed like the challenge I was looking for.”

Edelman, who grew up in a Modern Orthodox household near Boston, became an Israeli citizen in 2016. He is the first Israeli athlete to compete in the Olympic skeleton and is part of a small 10-athlete contingent representing the country in the games.

“I spent a summer in Israel in 2006 and resolved to make it my home one day,” he says. "I wanted to create an impact on my Jewish community. I realized the biggest impact I could make was to walk into the games wearing the Star of David.”

Edelman committed full-time to Olympic racing in 2015. He left his job as a product manager for Oracle in San Francisco and moved to Calgary, where he trained on the skeleton track used during the 1988 winter games.

“I dropped everything to focus on training,” he says. “I knew there was no other way to do it. If I wasn’t training, I watched skeleton videos on YouTube to build neuropathways on what to do in specific situations.”

After a few months of training, a 10-year plan to qualify for the games was shortened to four years — a remarkable goal considering Edelman did not have a coach.

“Training without a coach reminded me of those late nights at MIT,” Edelman says. “If you had an assignment due the next morning, it was up to you to do it.”

Edelman official qualified for the games in January after medaling in the final two races of the 2017-18 World Cup skeleton season.

“Once I got the news, I was thinking about what happens next,” he says. “Just like at MIT, the goal is not the goal. The goal is really to prepare for the next step.”

Despite being four years and nearly 8,000 miles removed from Cambridge, his MIT connection remains strong. His father is Institute for Medical Engineering and Science Professor Elazer Edelman ’78, SM ’79, PhD ’84, and his brother, Austin, is a first-year student.

“Representing Israel in the Olympics is the greatest honor of my life,” he says. “Winning a medal was not my objective when I started. It was for kids to see that you can take a step on an impossible journey and that you can accomplish your goal.”

A version of this article originally appeared on the Slice of MIT blog, which features more coverage of MIT alumni and the Olympics, including a history of MIT alumni in the Olympic Games.