Israel’s Surfing Soldier Qualifies Her Country for the 2020 Olympic Games

Photo Courtesy ISA/Ben Reed
Courtesy ISA/Ben Reed

In a span of less than three weeks, 19-year-old Israeli surfer, Anat Lelior went from winning her first-ever QS event, to qualifying her country to compete in surfing’s debut at the Summer Olympic Games next year. A relatively unknown from the Mediterranean, now heading toward Tokyo 2020.

Lelior is an enlisted member of the Israel Defense Forces from Tel Aviv, and, until recently, has only made ankle- to knee-high waves on the competitive surfing scene.

“I am a soldier in the army and I am getting full support,” Lelior tells ASN. “They give me everything I need. They send me to surf trips, surf camps, and surf contests.”

In late August, Leilor surfed into first place at the 2019 Deeply Pro Anglet, a World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 1,500 event. It was the first QS event she had ever won. It was, by all measures, a really big deal.

Photo Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans
Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans

Then, three weeks later, Lelior provisionally qualified to surf in the Olympics. (Arguably, a much bigger deal.)

It was at the 2019 International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games (WSG) where Lelior secured the European continental Olympic qualification slot for her country. Lelior’s own spot as a surfer in the lineup, however, is still up for grabs.

The ISA event was technically set to qualify countries to compete in the Games as they relate to the larger, competitive Olympic continental programs. Lelior qualified Israel for the women’s European slot among those for the Asian and Oceanic regions. The slots for the Americas were decided during the PanAmerican Games.

Because each nation is only allotted two spaces per gender, if two fellow Israeli women outranked Lelior and finished in the top seven at the 2020 ISA WSG, she would lose her right of way to surf Tokyo 2020 due to event hierarchy.

Photo Courtesy ISA/Ben Reed
Courtesy ISA/Ben Reed

“I’m not worried,” says Lelior, in response to the notion of losing her spot to a compatriot. “There are a lot of surfers in Israel, people don’t know that. But, right now, I am the best.”

“I don’t know what it means to me,” she continues. “I’m just trying to appreciate it.”

The atmosphere at the ISA event was something unlike that of a typical competitive arena. For Lelior it was the closest she had ever come to being a part of something like the Olympics, and it was nothing that any of her friends back home have ever experienced.

Photo Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans
Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans

“Kids my age don’t experience that many countries in one place,” Lelior tells ASN with a grin. “It’s funny that I say to my friends back home that I have a friend from Iran, a friend from Costa Rica, a friend from Hawaii … everything being connected here by surfing is amazing. People don’t realize how precious it is.”

She explained that it was hard for her to understand the true value of what was going to happen next. She had no Olympic aspirations when she took up surfing, but admits wanting to be an Olympic athlete since she first heard the announcement of the inclusion into the Games.

Photo Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans
Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans

“Now that I am getting into the Olympics, I expect things to be more professional,” she explains. “I expect more recognition.”

Sponsored by an investment company and a surf shop in Israel, Lelior says that her expectations for herself are going to to be much higher. More than anything, Lelior is simply excited for the future now that her country is officially qualified for the Olympics.

“I believe that anything is possible,” she says. “I have to believe that anything is possible, because I am from Israel, I grew up in the sea and am now looking forward to representing my country in the Olympics.”

Photo Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans
Courtesy ISA/Sean Evans

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