12-Year Old Syrian Table Tennis Prodigy, The Youngest Athlete At Tokyo Olympics, Exits After First Round
Twelve-year-old Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza—the youngest competitor at the Tokyo Olympics—lost her first-round match 4-0 to Chinese-born Austrian veteran Liu Jia, in a game which her opponent described as “a match between two flag bearers.”
Despite her loss, the 12-year-old table tennis prodigy appeared to maintain her composure throughout the game and even expressed her intent to come back stronger at the next Olympics after the match.
Zaza took on an opponent who was more than three times her age in 39-year-old former European Champion Liu Jia who walked over to her and offered a hug after the match.
After the end of the game, the young Syrian managed to snap a selfie with her Austrian opponent to remember the occasion, Reuters reported.
Speaking to reporters after the game Zaza called Liu a “tough” and “experienced” opponent and said the match was a “good lesson for her.”
At Friday’s opening ceremony, Zaza served as a flag bearer for her country during the athletes’ parade.
After the game, Liu recounted telling her 10-year-old daughter that she was playing against someone just two years older than her to which her daughter’s response was “Then you better not lose!”
Despite her comfortable win, Liu was all praise for her young opponent stating: “There’s sport and there’s life. There are people who have to endure difficulties. They are amazing, it hasn’t been easy for them. She’s a girl too — to be in an Olympics at 12, in my heart I really admire her.”
Last year, an 11-year-old Zaza defeated 42-year-old Mariana Sahakian of Lebanon at the Western Asia Olympic qualification tournament in Jordan to become the first Syrian table tennis player to qualify for the Olympics. She started playing table tennis at the age of five and was later taken under the wing of a local coach who spotted her talent. The young prodigy has talked about the challenges of playing the sport in a war-torn country like Syria. Frequent power outages in her home country often forced her to train only during the day. Speaking to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), she said her Olympic qualification was a gift to my country Syria, my parents and all my friends.”
Table Tennis-Syrian 12-year-old, Tokyo Games’ youngest competitor, exits in first round (Reuters)
The youngest athlete at the Games, a 12-year-old Syrian, goes out in a loss in table tennis. (New York Times)
Introducing Hend Zaza: Syria’s 11-year-old star, bound for Tokyo 2020 (ITTF)