This 11-Year-Old Syrian Table Tennis Star Will Be Youngest Tokyo 2020 Competitor

Hend Zaza will become the youngest athlete at this year’s games after qualifying last week
17:01, 06 Mar 2020

What were you doing when you were 11? Having a kickabout down the park with mates? Maybe, playing on your games console? Certainly not representing your country at the Olympics in any case.

Well for one 11-year-old from Syria, that is exactly what she will be doing this summer. Table tennis player Hend Zaza is set to become the youngest athlete at this year’s games after qualifying last week via the West Asia qualifying tournament in Jordan. Zaza, born on January 1, 2009, meaning she wasn’t even around for the Beijing Games or Euro 2008, will be there in Tokyo after getting the better of 42-year-old Mariana Sahakian of Lebanon to clinch the women’s title.

While Sahakian was the eldest competitor there were also two 14-year-olds and a 19-year-old trying to qualify. However, it was 11-year-old Zaza who made it through. Ranked 155th, she will become the fifth-youngest Olympian of all-time and the youngest since Romanian figure skater Beatrice Hustiu in 1968.

She is also six months younger than fellow 11-year-old Sky Brown, meaning she will pip the Japanese born British skateboarder to get her name in the history books. As well as breaking records for her age, Zaza will also become the first Syrian to compete at an Olympics in table tennis.

"Congratulations, our champion Hend to the Tokyo Olympics 2020," the Syrian Olympic Committee said on its Facebook page.

In table tennis there are no age restrictions but, of course, it is rare for one so young to be an Olympic level talent. The women’s single tournament is scheduled to begin on July 25 with the final set to take place five days later on the 30th.

The youngest-ever Olympian was gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who aged 10 years and 218 days, competed at the first modern games in Athens back in 1896. 

At the other end of the spectrum the oldest ever Olympian was Oscar Swahn. At the grand old age of 72 years and 281 days, the Swede competed at the 1920 Olympics shooting event. He also made the next games four years later at 76 but withdrew before competing. In 1912 he won gold aged 64. 

Zaza will be delighted to be in the history books but all her focus will be on upsetting the odds and springing another surprise on her elders.