Only 12, Syria's Hend Zaza is the youngest Olympian paddler at the Tokyo Olympics
A table tennis prodigy, 12-year-old Hend Zaza is set to represent Syria at the Tokyo Olympics as the youngest Olympian at the Games.
Set to be the youngest athlete at the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Syria's Hend Zaza, at 12, is willing to give it her all for her country.
Ranked 155th in the ITTF World Rankings, she secured her place at the Tokyo Olympics by virtue of winning the West Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament in Jordan in February, 2020 when she was just an 11-year-old.
Entering the Tokyo Games at the youngest Olympian, Hend Zaza will become the fifth-youngest Olympic athlete since Beatrice Hustiu of Romania who competed in figure skating at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, according to OlyMadMen.
With eyes filled with curiosity, intensity and hunger to do better, Zaza is is eagerly looking forward to all Olympic events in the coming future, "If I don't get to go to the Olympics this year because of the coronavirus, I will go in 2024," Zaza had said immediately after qualifying for the Games to the ITTF website.
Born in 2009 in Hama, Syria, Zaza started playing table tennis in 2014. At the tender age of 5, Zaza understood the importance of the sport of table tennis in her life - given the current situation in Syria with the civil war that has been going on for the past 10 years and almost all her life.
Zaza, currently trains under her coach, Aljamaan at the Al-Muhafaza Table Tennis Club in Damascus with a concrete floor and minimal lighting. But defying all odds, she became the first Syrian player to win national titles in all the four eligible categories, namely, hopes, cadets, juniors and seniors.
In 2016, Zaza was picked up by the ITTF Hopes Programme, sensing her potential to grow in the sport, at the West Asia Hopes Week and Challenge in Qatar accompanied by her brother. The ITTF's Hopes Programme is a talent identification programme of the Department of ITTF High Performance and Development that unites players and coaches from across the globe.
Given the situation, Hend found solace in the sport which started as a distraction and she has decided to firmly embed her roots into the game as it provided her respite from the everyday acts of heinousness.
"I have very rarely seen a player at this age play with such joy and train with such intensity as Zaza. She never walked to pick up the ball – she ran. While of course her technique needed and still needs improvement, her determination, resilience and will to play and win are (almost) a guarantee for future success."
- Eva Jeler, ITTF expert on Zaza (Source: ittf.com)
According to her coach, Aljamaan, the war has played a definite downward pull towards the success of Zaza, but nonetheless, they are trying hard to fully prepare her for the quadrennial event. Hend's qualification to the Olympic Games is termed as a ray of hope for every single player in the country as this is the first time Syria has achieved Olympic representation by dint of a qualification tournament.
The Table Tennis Championships at Tokyo begin on Saturday, 25th July at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium and will surely mark the beginning of a long and successful career of this budding paddler.