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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    Maroon and Gold were the dominant colors at the Campion College Auditorium on Tuesday as Wolmer’s copped both the ISSA girls’ and boys’ Under-19 Table Tennis titles.

    In the girls’ final, the Heroes Circle-based school won a hotly contested final 3-2 against St. Jago High while the boys’ final saw them defeat Kingston College by a similar score line.

    The girls’ final saw a Wolmer’s team boasting three national players, namely 2023 National Champion Tsenaye Lewis, her older sister Gianna Lewis as well as Liana Campbell facing a St. Jago outfit including two national players of their own, Kelsey Davidson and Keara Whyte, who was the runner up to Lewis at last year’s JTTA National Championships.

    The tie began with Tsenaye Lewis defeating Kelsey Davidson three sets to one (11-9, 6-11, 11-4, 11-7) to put the Wolmerians up 1-0.

    Keara Whyte then made it 1-1 with three sets to one victory over Gianna Lewis (11-6, 11-2, 6-11, 11-6).

    Wolmer’s then restored their advantage when Liana Campbell beat Leanna Smith by three sets to one (6-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8).

    In what was perhaps the tie’s most anticipated clash, Tsenaye and Keara White then had a rematch of the 2023 National Championship final with Lewis having the chance to clinch the title for Wolmer’s.

    Whyte had the best possible start, winning the first two sets (11-9, 11-9) before Lewis came roaring back in the third set to win 11-6. The fourth set was then a back-and-forth affair, with Whyte eventually prevailing 14-12 to set up the title-deciding match between Gianna Lewis and Kelsey Davidson.

    In the decider, Lewis won the first two sets (11-2, 11-6) before Davidson got on the board in the third (11-9) before Lewis won the fourth (11-9) to secure the title for Wolmer’s.

    For Lewis (Gianna) and Campbell, this title meant a lot more as they are both outgoing seniors.

    “I am overjoyed to be leaving with this title. My team and I have worked hard and we made it our goal to ensure we take home the gold again this year as our final hoorah,” Lewis told SportsMax.tv.

    “My sister Tsenaye, Liana and I realized that this day would come when the more experienced players will leave Wolmer’s so we have prioritized training and motivating the next generation of players,” she added.

    Campbell described the win as “an incredible and bittersweet feeling.”

    “Ending my last year victorious is such an awarding and joyous feeling. Sharing that with the team creates another fond memory to look back on as I go. I also feel a bit saddened as I’ll never be able to play another ISSA event and represent my school with my lovely teammates. I’ll especially miss the titular bis rides to matches where it was all smiles and laughter.” she added.

    The boys’ final saw Wolmer’s take a 1-0 lead over Kingston College thanks to Joel Lamm’s three sets to one win over Javier Levene (11-3, 6-11, 11-1, 11-2).

    KC got back on level terms when Gemarco Smith won a five-setter (16-14, 11-3, 4-11, 8-11, 11-9) against Wolmer’s captain Azizi Johnson.

    Dominic Robinson then gave the North-Street based institution a 2-1 lead thanks to a straight set (11-2, 11-6, 12-10) win over Maleek Palma.

    Wolmer’s made it 2-2 when Jayden Ebanks beat Alden Howard (10-12, 11-6, 11-6, 11-9) before Jelani Barnaby secured the title for Wolmer’s with a straight set win (11-9, 11-2, 11-6) over KC captain Chadwick Duff.

    “For the girls, this is the third time that we have been champions. Originally it was U-16 but the girls moved up to U-19 and we were also the All Island champions so hopefully we can repeat that,” said winning coach Clive Grossett.

    “For the boys, they also won in U-16 and now they’ve moved up as well. We’re now coming for the all island championship there as well,” he added.

    Immaculate Conception High beat Jonathan Grant 3-0 to win the girls’ U-16 title while Jamaica College beat Kingston College 3-0 to win the boys’ equivalent.

    The all island matchups will be finalized after the ISSA Rural Area semi-finals and finals scheduled for Friday at the GC Foster College.

     

     

     

  • Welsh para table tennis pair could face off for ‘golden ticket’ to Paris Welsh para table tennis pair could face off for ‘golden ticket’ to Paris

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    Davies, a two-time Paralympian, gold medallist in Rio seven years ago and winner of four European titles, is the more experienced of the pair.

    But after a two-year injury lay-off that forced him to miss the Tokyo Games, the 39-year-old has had a long battle to get back to the summit.

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    Both are ranked in the world’s top 10 and will be favourites at next week’s European Championships in Sheffield, where a precious qualification spot for Paris 2024 will be on the line.

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    “It’s been a long road back for me for the last two years. I had a medical problem that affected my nervous system and I wasn’t able to defend my title in Tokyo.

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    “I’ll take it match by match but I really want to win this one.”

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    Over the course of three intense days of fierce competition, the Lewis sisters emerged as triumphant champions, collecting an impressive haul of 10 trophies across seven categories. Their remarkable achievements were a testament to their dedication, hard work, and unwavering commitment to their craft.

    Tsenaye Lewis beat Keeara Whyte 11-8, 11-6, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6 to win the national women’s title. She further showcased her prowess by clinching first place in the Junior Mixed Doubles alongside Rasheed Clarke. She was also queen of the U19 women. Meanwhile, she and sister, Gianna, were also runners-up in the women’s doubles beaten 13-11, 11-9, 11-13, 13-11 to Liana Campbell and Keeara Whyte.

    Her collaboration with Roberto 'Dino' Byles earned her a well-deserved second-place finish in the Mixed Doubles, while her participation in the winning St. Andrew parish team underscored her versatility. Additionally, Tsenaye's partnership with Gianna led them to a commendable second place in the Junior Girls Doubles.

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