Hend Zaza: Tokyo 2020's youngest athlete, 12, says 'fight for your dreams' after bowing out

By Sports Desk July 24, 2021

Hend Zaza's Tokyo 2020 adventure came to a quick end but the youngest Olympian in almost 30 years told youngsters around the world to "fight for your dreams".

Aged only 12 years and 204 days old, Zaza – who was Syria's flagbearer at Friday's opening ceremony – is the youngest competitor at a Games since 11-year-old Carlos Front and and 12-year-old Judit Kiss competed in rowing and swimming for Spain and Hungary respectively in 1992.

Zaza's story is an inspiring one. Her home city of Hama was destroyed by war and finding facilities in which to train can often be a challenge.

She was beaten 11-4 11-9 11-3 11-5 by 39-year-old Austrian Jia Liu, appearing at her sixth Games – three of which in 2000, 2004 and 2008 Zaza was not even born – in Saturday's preliminary round.

"For the last five years I've been through many different experiences, especially when there was the war happening around the country, with the postponement with funding for the Olympics, and it was very tough," Zaza said.

"But I had to fight for it and this is my message to everyone who wishes to have the same situation. Fight for your dreams, try hard, regardless of the difficulties that you're having, and you will reach your goal."

Zaza conceded the excitement of Friday's ceremony coupled with the effects of jet lag may have been contributing factors in her defeat.

"Yesterday we had to start our journey to the Olympic opening ceremony at six o'clock, which is quite early, standing there, or preparing, till 11 or after 11, which is quite a long time," she added. 

"Getting ready for the morning session, plus the jet lag, which is seven hours difference from Syria, both are definitely factors that put me out of my comfort zone."

Opponent Liu revealed how she had some pressure at home from her daughter, explaining: "Everybody knows that losing to someone so young can be a bit embarrassing. 

"Yesterday I asked my daughter, 'do you know your mother is playing against someone two years older than you?' 

"Her first response was 'then you better not lose!' I said 'don't give me pressure!' I did tell the media though that if I did lose I would jump off my balcony. So my daughter said 'if you really lose, please don't jump. You've got to come home.'"

Liu also spoke of her admiration for her young opponent.

"There's sport and there's life. There are people who have to endure difficulties," she added.

"They are amazing, it hasn't been easy for them. She's a girl, too – to be in an Olympics at 12, in my heart I really admire her."

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