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Just 12, Syrian Hend Zaza is the youngest Olympic rower at the Tokyo Olympics

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Syrian Hend Zaza, 12 years old, is the youngest athlete at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo and is ready to give everything for her country.

155th in the ITTF world rankings, she secured her place at the Tokyo Olympics by winning the West Asian Olympic Qualifier in Jordan in February 2020, when she was just 11 years old.

Hend Zaza, the youngest Olympian to compete in the Tokyo Games, becomes the fifth youngest Olympic athlete since Romania’s Beatrice Hustiu who competed in figure skating at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. OlyMadMen.

Hend Zaza and Princess Zeina Rashid of Jordan pose after the tournament (Source: Jordan Olympic Committee)

With eyes filled with curiosity, intensity and hunger to do better, Zaza is eagerly looking forward to all Olympic events in the future: “If I can’t go to the Olympics this year because of the coronavirus, I’ll go in 2024,” had said. Zaza said on the ITTF website immediately after qualifying for the Games.

Born in 2009 in Hama, Syria, Zaza started playing table tennis in 2014. At the tender age of 5 Zaza understood the importance of table tennis in her life – given the current situation in Syria with the civil war going on for the past 10 years and almost all of her life.

Zaza is currently training under her coach Aljamaan at the Al-Muhafaza Table Tennis Club in Damascus with a concrete floor and minimal lighting. But she defied all odds and became the first Syrian player to win national titles in all four qualifying categories, namely hope, cadets, juniors and seniors.

In 2016, while sensing her potential to grow in the sport, Zaza was picked up by the ITTF Hopes program, at the West Asia Hopes Week and Challenge in Qatar, along with her brother. The ITTF’s Hopes Program is a talent identification program of the Department of ITTF High Performance and Development that unites players and coaches from around the world.

2019 ITTF Hopes Week and Challenge (Source: ittf.com)

Given the situation, Hend found solace in the sport that started as a distraction and she has decided to anchor her roots firmly in the game as it offered her respite from the daily atrocities.

“I have rarely seen a player at this age having so much fun playing and training with such intensity as Zaza. She never ran to pick up the ball she ran. Although her technique needed and still needs improvement, her determination, resilience and will to play and win are (almost) a guarantee of future success.”

– Eva Jeler, ITTF expert on Zaza (Source: ittf.com)

According to her coach, Aljamaan, the war has had a marked downward impact on Zaza’s success, but they are nonetheless doing their best to prepare her fully for the quadrennial event. Hend’s qualification for the Olympics is seen as a glimmer of hope for every player in the country, as it marks Syria’s first Olympic representation through a qualifying tournament.

The Tokyo Table Tennis Championships kick off on Saturday, July 25 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium and are sure to mark the start of a long and successful career for this novice rower.

Sources

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2/ https://thebridge.in/table-tennis/only-12-syria-hend-zaza-youngest-olympian-paddler-tokyo-olympics-22900

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