Young Athletes Are Blazing New Trails at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and We're Here For It

Getty / Clive Rose

If you haven’t heard the name Hend Zaza before, expect to hear a lot more about her soon: after winning the West Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament, the 11-year-old table tennis player from Syria is set to become the youngest athlete to compete at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

She’s even younger than likely Olympian Sky Brown, the 11-year-old skateboarding phenom from Great Britain who will turn 12 only days before the opening ceremony in July. Their presence at the Games is particularly impressive given how long it’s been since an athlete this young has competed. NBC reports that Zaza will be the youngest Olympian since Beatrice Hustiu, a Romanian figure skater who competed at the 1968 Winter Olympics. She’s also only a year older than the youngest known Olympian in the modern era: Dimitrios Loundras, a 10-year-old Greek gymnast who won a bronze medal at the first “modern era” Olympics in 1896.

According to the International Olympic Committee, age requirements for the Olympics are left up to each sport’s international regulatory body. Zaza’s youth isn’t a problem in table tennis, which does not require its athletes to meet a certain age to compete, although it does have divided age categories for world rankings. Prior to her big win, Zaza was ranked as high as 155th in the world Cadet category (under-15) in table tennis. In the qualifying tournament, which took place in Jordan, she defeated Lebanese player Mariana Sahakian – who, at age 42, is nearly four times her age – and officially punched her ticket to Tokyo! You can cheer for Zaza and her fellow trailblazers when the Olympics begin on Tuesday, July 21.

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