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Surfing Star Anat Lelior Targets Olympic Success from Tel Aviv to Tahiti

Israeli Surfer Prepares for the 2024 Paris Olympics in Dream Surfing Destination.

Anat Lelior will be representing Israel at the 2024 Paris Olympics – though she won’t actually be in Paris. Instead, as an Olympic surfer, Lelior will compete in Tahiti, French Polynesia, nearly 10,000 miles away from the French capital. This sets a new record for the Olympic event held furthest from the host city.

For Lelior, the location is bittersweet. Her debut at the Tokyo Olympics was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now she will be away from the Olympic village camaraderie in Paris. “It’s a little disappointing to be far from Paris, but Tahiti is one of the dream locations for surfers,” Lelior shared. “I’m happy to be there, but it’s still a bit of a bummer.”

Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Lelior started surfing at the age of five with her father. Her talent quickly emerged, leading her to compete in local and international competitions as a teenager. She qualified for the Tokyo Games by finishing as the top European contender at the 2019 International Surfing Association’s World Surfing Games in Japan.

The COVID-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021 were challenging for Lelior, who was recovering from a hip injury that later required surgery. Despite the setbacks, she competed while fulfilling her mandatory IDF service, receiving special permissions to train and compete.

In an interview earlier this year, Lelior discussed her lengthy recovery. “It took me a long time to recover because they missed out on some problems… When I started surfing again, [I reinjured myself],” she recounted. “I’m still trying to accept that my recovery time is different from others; it doesn’t mean I’m weaker.”

Lelior secured her spot for the Paris Games at the ISA World Surfing Games in Puerto Rico, finishing sixth out of 113 female competitors. With surfing returning to the Olympics, the competition has expanded to 24 female athletes. This time, Lelior approaches the Games as an experienced Olympian.

“I feel good… There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of fears and pressures, but I’m positive,” she said. “I think I’m more ready for the Olympic experience overall… I’m here to enjoy myself.”

Lelior has already visited Tahiti twice to practice. “The Tahiti venue is definitely one of a kind. You can really only practice on those waves in the place itself,” she explained. “It’s everything you could ask for.”

Growing up, Lelior was one of the few serious female surfers in Israel, even competing against boys. While surfing is popular along Israel’s coast, the competitive scene is less established due to unpredictable conditions.

Could Israeli Olympic success boost the sport’s popularity at home? Lelior is hopeful. “Surfing is a cool sport that everyone enjoys watching,” she said. “I’m happy to represent a sport that brings a little color to life. I believe in this sport, and I believe we’ll succeed in boosting its popularity.”

Despite some Israeli athletes facing challenges amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, Lelior’s experiences have been positive. “In surfing, there’s a lot less concern over where you come from as long as you are respectful and represent the best values of humanity,” she noted.

Proudly competing under the Israeli flag, Lelior emphasized the privilege of representing her country. “For me and all the other athletes, it is clearer than ever that to be Israeli is a privilege,” she said. “We’re proud to represent our amazing country… I’m prouder than ever to be Israeli.”

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