With each step inside Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium on Saturday, Syria’s Hend Zaza had begun to etch her title into the historical past books.
At 12 years previous, Zaza was already Tokyo’s youngest athlete, and now, with the primary swing of her paddle, she additionally turned the youngest Olympian in table tennis historical past.
Her darkish, wavy hair lashed towards her cheeks as she confronted her Austrian opponent Liu Jia, who, at 39, was greater than thrice her age.
While Liu’s veteran savvy received out, cruising to a 4-Zero victory of their ladies’s preliminary spherical match, Zaza’s Olympic journey is much from full.
Having already overcome numerous obstacles, together with a struggle that has left her nation torn and her residence metropolis of Hama destroyed, her message to others stays clear.
“Fight to your desires,” Zaza stated. “Try exhausting, whatever the difficulties that you simply’re having, and you’ll attain your purpose.”
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Despite attempting circumstances, table tennis has lengthy been Zaza’s escape. She credit the sport, which she started taking part in at the age of seven, for instructing her to be “a powerful human being.”
Even earlier than her match, her confidence was on show as she helped lead Syria’s delegation within the Parade of Nations. Proud to have been chosen to hold her nation’s flag, she hopes that her presence in Tokyo, nonetheless temporary, has helped present some stage of consolation to individuals again residence.
Zaza’s willpower to enhance is why she says she is going to by no means cease taking part in.
“Table tennis is my entire life — I spend all my time taking part in it. Other than table tennis, I research,” she stated.
Even after defeat, Zaza’s thoughts was already geared towards making her Olympic return.
“Playing towards a really skilled opponent may be very powerful, particularly for my first Olympic match, so it was very powerful to mentally be ready for it,” she stated.
“[Next time] I shall be working exhausting to move the primary, second, third rounds, as a result of I wish to be on this [Olympic] competitors longer.”
Liu, whose 10-year-old daughter is barely two years youthful than Zaza, was impressed her by prodigious, youthful opponent.
“There are individuals who need to endure difficulties. They are superb, it hasn’t been simple for them. She’s a lady, too. To be in an Olympics at 12, in my coronary heart I actually admire her.”
Liu, who’s in her sixth and last Olympics, admitted to feeling nervous previous to the match.
“Everybody is aware of that shedding to somebody so younger could be a bit embarrassing. Yesterday I requested my daughter, ‘Do your mom is taking part in towards somebody two years older than you?’ Her first response was ‘then you definately higher not lose!’ I stated ‘do not give me strain!'”
Later within the day, Liu prolonged her win streak by defeating Ganna Gaponova of Ukraine 4-2.