Syrian table tennis player, 12, content despite Olympic defeat

TOKYO: Syria’s Hend Zaza hits a shot against 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 yesterday. – AFP

TOKYO: Syria’s Hend Zaza — the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics at just 12 — said just reaching the Games was “an achievement” despite bowing out in the preliminary round yesterday. Zaza, who shot to fame overnight in her war-torn country last year by qualifying for Tokyo, lost to Austria’s Liu Jia 11-4, 11-9, 11-3, 11-5.

But Zaza, the youngest Olympian since 11-year-old Romanian Beatrice Hustiu competed in figure skating at the 1968 Winter Olympics, said she was happy with her performance. “Reaching the Tokyo Olympics was already an achievement. I wasn’t asked to win, I was asked to play well,” she told “I think I had a good performance and I learned from the loss. Hopefully in the next Olympics, there will be something in it for me.”

Liu, 39, was the European champion in 2005, four years before Zaza was born. “In my eyes I accomplished something. A 12-year-old girl playing against a 39-year-old and taking nine or 10 points, this is an achievement,” said Zaza. “For sure, I wanted to win and take one or two matches, but hopefully in the next Olympics.”

Zaza had to overcome serious adversity to reach the Olympics, where she carried the Syrian flag in Friday’s 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,” said Zaza. “It’s great for us that we can play, and we are able to overcome those obstacles. We want to show that even though we are in the middle of the war, we must do something.” – AFP


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