July 24, 2021

TOKYO (Reuters) – Syria’s Hend Zaza, at 12 the youngest athlete competing at the Tokyo Olympics, exited the table tennis tournament in the opening round on Saturday, snapping a selfie with her Austrian opponent to remember the occasion.

Zaza was battling an opponent more than three times her age in 39-year-old Liu Jia in the women’s singles preliminary round but showed no sign of nerves, maintaining her composure despite a 4-0 defeat.

The youngest Olympian since 11-year-old Spanish rower Carlos Front in 1992, Zaza was born in Hama, Syria, to an athletic family and started playing table tennis at the age of five.

She has been able to participate in only two or three external matches a year due to the Syrian civil war, her coach Adham Jamaan has said.

Frequent power outages also restricted her to occasionally practise only during daytime hours.

But Zaza beat the odds after winning the West Asia Olympic qualification tournament in Jordan last year, becoming the first Syrian paddler to qualify for the Olympics.

(Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Peter Rutherford)