Kin Cheung / AP
The youngest Olympian in the Tokyo Games was eliminated from the competition in her first round on Saturday.
Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza, just twelve years old, took it all in stride. He took a photo with his Austrian opponent, Liu Jia, before leaving.
In her Olympic debut, Zaza played a woman three times her age in the preliminary round of women’s singles. She has beaten more experienced players than her before. To qualify for the Games, she beat a 42-year-old Lebanese player when she was eleven years old.
“I was hoping to play better, but he is a difficult opponent, so it is a good lesson for me, especially since it is my first Olympics,” Zaza told reporters after the match. “I’ll work on it to get a better result next time, hopefully.”
Born in Hama, Syria, the table tennis player is the fifth youngest Olympian of all time and the youngest at the Games since the 11-year-old Spanish rower. Carlos front competed in 1992.
Zaza was one of the flag bearers for Syria in the “Athletes Parade” at the Opening Ceremony on Friday. He has been celebrated for his ability at such a young age and for his drive to train and compete despite the challenges of the pandemic and the civil war in Syria. He took up table tennis at the age of five because he wanted to play the same game his brother did.
Power outages at home put a stop to night practices and he was unable to participate in as many games outside of Syria due to the conflict.
After his loss, he had a message for other children.
“During the last five years I have gone through many different experiences, especially when there was a war all over the country, with the deferral of funds for the Olympics, and it was very difficult,” he said. “But I had to fight for it and this is my message for everyone who wants to go through the same situation. Fight for your dreams, strive, no matter what difficulties you are having, and you will reach your goal.”
His opponent, Jia, was also flagged on Friday. The 39-year-old Austrian player said that when she first told her daughter that she was going to face a player two years older than her, her daughter said: “You better not lose.”
Jia is happy to move forward but “there is sport and there is life,” he said after the match.
“There are people who have to endure difficulties. They are incredible, it has not been easy for them,” he said. “She is also a girl – to be in the Olympics at 12, in my heart I admire her very much.”