TOKYO: Syria's Hend Zaza - the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics at just 12 - said just reaching the Games was "an achievement" despite bowing out in the preliminary round on Saturday (Jul 24).
Zaza, who shot to fame overnight in her war-torn country last year by qualifying for Tokyo, lost to Austria's Liu Jia 11-4, 11-9, 11-3, 11-5.
But Zaza, the youngest Olympian since 11-year-old Romanian Beatrice Hustiu competed in figure skating at the 1968 Winter Olympics, said she was happy with her performance.
"Reaching the Tokyo Olympics was already an achievement. I wasn't asked to win, I was asked to play well," she told Olympics.com.
"I think I had a good performance and I learned from the loss. Hopefully, in the next Olympics, there will be something in it for me."
Liu, 39, was the European champion in 2005, four years before Zaza was born.
"It was very tough to mentally be prepared for (the Olympics) but I think I somehow managed to overcome this, and this is the part that I think I did the best during the match," Zaza told reporters after the match.
"The main lesson was the loss of this match, especially in the first match. So next time, I will be working hard to pass the first, second, third round, because I want to play more in this competition," she added.
"In my eyes I accomplished something. A 12-year-old girl playing against a 39-year-old and taking nine or 10 points, this is an achievement."
Her coach Adham Jamaan told reporters the paddler would need to continue practising, and she "would be okay".
Zaza was born in Hama, Syria, to an athletic family and started playing table tennis at the age of five.
She has been able to participate in only two or three external matches a year due to the Syrian civil war, Jamaan has said.
Frequent power outages also restricted her to occasionally practise only during daytime hours.
But Zaza beat the odds after winning the West Asia Olympic qualification tournament in Jordan last year, becoming the first Syrian paddler to qualify for the Olympics.
"For the last five years, I've been through many different experiences, especially with the war happening around the country and the postponement of the funding for the Olympics," Zaza said.
"It was very tough, but I had to fight for it. And this is my message to everyone who is in the same situation - fight for your dream. Try hard regardless of the difficulties that you’re having and you will reach your hope."
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