Tales from Tokyo: ‘Israel saved my grandmother – to ride for a country she loved so much means everything’

  • Ashlee Bond is 36 and says she’s “been dreaming of the Olympics since I was 12”. But when she made her debut last night at the Tokyo Games, it was a particularly poignant moment for her as she rode under the Israeli flag.

    “My father was born in Israel and my safta – my grandmother in Hebrew – was like a second Mom to me,” she says. “She immigrated to Israel in the 1940s with her husband and my dad and uncle.

    “All her family were murdered in the Holocaust, but Israel saved her. It’s a super emotional thing for me because she was so close to me and she died when I was 14. So being here for her and a country that she loved so much – that I love so much – is really special. It means everything.

    “I have a really strong faith in God, the Holy Land, chosen people, so that’s also a huge reason that I wanted to represent Israel, and bring it to the world stage. So it feels really gratifying to have done that and now to have a chance to show we belong here.”

    Ashlee Bond names Dani G Waldman – the Israeli team alternate here in Tokyo – as the first Israeli rider to compete at the top level. In 2018, Ashlee (who originally rode for the USA) gained her Israeli citizenship and joined a growing band of riders representing the country at the top level.

    “We have really amazing group of riders that are very talented,” she says. “It’s always horsepower, but at least we have the riders, and I think we all just have this really big dream that we could get Israel to the top of the sport as a team, not just individually.”

    Ashlee’s father’s birth name was Shlomo Goldberg, but he is now known as Steve Bond – the actor whose work includes playing Jimmy Lee Holt on the soap opera General Hospital. He moved the USA when he was 12 years old and is responsible for introducing Ashlee to horses.

    She explains: “He just started riding bareback horses and bulls for the rodeo, then he went into cutting and did the Western thing and then he did polo, and then my mom was like, ‘You’ve got to choose’. By then I was six or seven and I was jumping already and so he picked up showjumping and jumped at a high level. He’s a magician on a horse.”

    Ashlee says she owes everything to her father and mother Cindy, as well as to her husband Roy Meeus and daughter Scottie and her team. The rider has a “home base” in Los Angeles and is buying a farm in Wellington, Florida, too.

    Ashlee Bond put in a fast clear in yesterday’s individual qualifier so starts the individual final today with a late draw on Donatello 141. She came out of the ring whooping with delight.

    “For the warm-up class, I could not stop smiling – my face hurt. I was grinning from ear to ear and I tried to stop, but I was like, ‘We’re at the Olympics, this is so cool.’

    “And then I slept, woke up and was like, ‘Ok, tomorrow we’ve got to do the qualifier, this is real.’ I got more in the zone, which I was happy about.

    “I’m a quick rider and my horse likes to go fast, so I figured if I went at my normal pace and made tigher turns, I’d be pretty quick so it was nice to see that.

    “I feel like we came, we got here and now we get the reward, to have fun – the final and then the team competition. Hopefully we can just keep going and jumping around.”

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