Updated: July 23, 2021 1:20:32 pm
Hend Zaza will begin her participation in the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, but her appearance will be a unique one. In her first-round match in the table tennis competition, the 12-year-old from Syria will be taking on someone more than three times her age — 39-year-old Austrian Liu Jia.
Zaza is the youngest competitor at the Tokyo Games. She is also the youngest Olympian since 11-year-old Beatrice Hustiu competed in figure skating at the 1968 Winter Olympics.
Zaza’s participation in the Tokyo Olympics itself is a victory for the sport of table tennis in Syria, as she is the first ever person to directly qualify for the Games from the country. She qualified for the Olympics by winning the West Asia qualifying tournament last year at only 11 years old.
But Zaza said she wants to go on and become a world and Olympic champion. “I dream of becoming world champion and an Olympic champion one day”, she told AFP. “But I also want to finish my studies and become a pharmacist,” she said.
The 12-year-old Zaza has lived the most of her life in a country in the grips of an intense civil war, with the Arab Spring of 2011 displacing nearly 11 million people by March 2015, according to Al-Jazeera. According to Zaza’s coach, Zaza has been able to play in only two or three external matches a year since beginning her career due to the war, The Independent reported.
Zaza has won Syrian national titles in all four categories in which she is eligible, including the senior title, having started playing at the age of five.
She is the only female member of the six-person Syrian team vying for the country’s fourth-ever Olympic medal. On Saturday, Zaza will get her first shot at Olympics history.
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