Youngest Tokyo Olympian, 12, Looks to the Future After Losing in First Match: 'Fight for Your Dreams'
"I was hoping to play better, but it's a tough opponent so it's a good lesson for me, especially with this being my first Olympics," Syria's Hend Zaza told reporters
Twelve-year-old table tennis prodigy Hend Zaza, the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Summer Games, didn't last long in competition but is already looking ahead to the next match armed with the lessons of her loss.
"Playing against a very experienced opponent is very tough, especially for my first Olympic match, so it was very tough to mentally be prepared for it," Zaza, from Syria, told reporters after she was defeated by Austria's Liu Jia, 39, in a preliminary round on Saturday.
"But I think I managed somehow to overcome this," Zaza continued, "and this is the part that I think that I did the best during the match."
"I was hoping to play better, but it's a tough opponent so it's a good lesson for me, especially with this being my first Olympics," she said. "I will work on it to get a better result for the next time, hopefully."
As for the future: "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," Zaza said. "Because I want to be in this competition longer, not only for the first round."
Zaza qualified for table tennis in February 2020 and, with her debut in the Tokyo Games, has reportedly become the youngest Olympian since 1968 and one of the youngest ever. She was Syria's flagbearer at Friday's opening ceremony.
Zaza was also Syria's first-ever Olympic table tennis competitor.
"It's a gift to my country Syria, my parents and all my friends," she has said.
This success came despite the challenges of life in her home country, which has been ravaged in recent years by civil war — as well as the more common experience among Olympians in Japan of training during the last year's postponement during a pandemic.
"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 told reporters on Saturday. "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."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.