Syria's Hend Zaza qualifies for Tokyo 2020 aged 11

Young table tennis player wins four of five matches at Western Asia Qualifier to book Olympic spot.

By ZK Goh

This might make you feel old.

Syria's Hend Zaza has qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. She's 11 years old.

Zaza, who won table tennis' Western Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament in Jordan in late February, was born on 1 January 2009, according to the sport's global governing body the International Table Tennis Federation.

She won four of her five matches in the tournament on the way to clinching the women's singles title.

Hend Zaza of Syria competes in the 2019 ITTF Bahrain Junior & Cadet Open (Photo: International Table Tennis Federation)

Youngest Olympians

Zaza is set to become the youngest Olympian in 52 years, since fellow-11-year-old Beatrice Hustiu competed in figure skating at the 1968 Winter Olympics.

Another likely pre-teen competing in Tokyo this summer will be Sky Brown, who will be 12 by the time of the Games and figures to be in the Great Britain skateboarding team.

The youngest recorded athlete at an Olympic Games was 10-year-old Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed at the Modern Olympics' birth in Athens 1896 and won a team bronze medal.

There are no age restrictions in table tennis.

Hend Zaza of Syria competes in the 2019 ITTF Hong Kong Junior & Cadet Open (Photo: International Table Tennis Federation)

Come-from-behind wins

Zaza breezed through her group with two wins, 4-0 and 4-1, and one narrow 4-3 defeat.

She finished top of her group on a tiebreaker, then had the luck of the draw on her side as she received a bye past the first elimination round straight through to the semi-finals.

It looked like her dream was over as she went behind 3-0 to home favourite Sewar Abuyaman, but won the last four games on the trot to secure her spot in the final.

And the youngest competitor faced the oldest in the final, as 42-year-old Lebanese Mariana Sahakian lined up against her.

Zaza took a 2-0 lead but then lost the next three games, once again finding herself on the edge of elimination.

But wins in the last two games ensured victory for the youngster, who will now write her history in Tokyo, where at the other end of the spectrum Ni Xialian will compete aged 56.


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