The Amazing 10-Year-Old Girl Who Swam at This Year’s World Championships
Alzain Tareq may have finished last in her race at swimming’s world championships, but the 10-year-old Bahraini athlete won hearts as the youngest swimmer to compete in Kazan, Russia.
Alzain competed in the first heat of the women’s 50-meter butterfly last week, taking her place on the starting blocks alongside four other swimmers.
Though her time of 41.13 seconds put her in last place in the preliminary heat, Alzain was thrilled to finish 15.70 seconds behind her idol, Sarah Sjöström of Sweden.
“The most important thing for me is to gain experience competing at high-profile events, watch the technical skills of famous Olympic champions, and maybe even add some of their skills to my armory,” Alzain told Olympic officials.
Alzain started swimming at age four under the supervision of her father, Tareq Salem, who was once a professional swimmer. Since then, she’s competed in several meets in Bahrain as well as in Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
She’s one of 12 girls under the age of 12 swimming for Team Bahrain. When asked how she qualified for the world championships at her age, Alzain attributed the win to her speed.
“It is quite logical. I’m the fastest swimmer in Team Bahrain,” she said.
During the week, the young athlete swims before and after school—all in hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Studies as well as swimming give me great pleasure. My favorite subject is mathematics,” she told officials.
Her father said the family would even consider a move to Britain for training once Alzain turns 14.
“She said, ‘Look, these are my idols. I want to beat them in the future,’ ” Salem told The Associated Press. “I said, ‘When you reach that time they are probably gone, but you can beat their times.’ ”
Alzain is turning out to be an inspiration for many around the world, with social media lighting up to congratulate the young competitor for making it to the world’s top races.
Alzain is one of several young female athletes making headlines as pioneers in women’s sports in male-dominated countries, though Bahrain has made progressive efforts in recent years to uphold equality for women and men.
In 2002, Bahrain, a tiny country in the Persian Gulf, granted equal rights to women under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women act; and it maintains a high literacy rate for girls and boys, according to UNICEF’s gender equality profile on Bahrain in 2011. However, girls as young as 15 are still able to marry, whereas the average age for boys is 18.
Bahrain's approach to gender law is fairly unique among Middle Eastern countries. Neighboring Saudi Arabia announced plans earlier this year that Saudi Arabian women were to compete in Bahrain instead of at home—a privilege granted only to men.
Iran’s first female triathlete, Shirin Gerami, was ordered to race in full Islamic dress after Iran’s sports ministry issued it as a requirement during London’s triathlon in 2013.
Some inspirational female athletes, like Bangladesh’s first female surfer, Nasima Akter, face disapproval and shaming if seen swimming, considering it’s taboo in their culture.
But by beating records and setting new standards for other women globally, athletes including Alzain are proving that sports are for everyone.