TOKYO: Syria's Hend Zaza eyes the ball as she serves to Austria's Liu Jia during their women's singles preliminary round table tennis match at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 24, 2021. - AFP

TOKYO: Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza, the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics at just 12, has been invited by China to learn from the undisputed masters of the sport, Chinese media says. Zaza, who shot to fame overnight in her war-torn country last year by qualifying for Tokyo, was well beaten 4-0 by Austria's Liu Jia in the preliminary stage. That brought her Olympics to an early end, but now Zaza looks like she will be heading to China -- who have won men's and women's singles gold so far in Tokyo -- as early as next month for training.

Zaza was invited by the Chinese Olympic Committee, the country's state broadcaster CCTV said, quoting her as saying: "I look forward to training abroad so that I can make continuous progress and realize my championship dream. Of course, first of all, I hope to reach the level of Chinese players. My dream is to be as strong as Chinese players and I look forward to going to China and receiving the same training as them."

Zaza had to overcome serious adversity to reach the Olympics, where she carried the Syrian flag in the opening ceremony. Syria's civil war has killed around 500,000 people, displaced millions, and ravaged infrastructure since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

"The conditions where I trained in Syria were a very hard thing to me, I wished for a different floor. We didn't have such tables nor such preparations," Zaza said previously. Zaza was the youngest Olympian since 11-year-old Romanian Beatrice Hustiu competed in figure skating at the 1968 Winter Olympics. - AFP