KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) – - Alzain Tareq won’t be winning any medals at the world swimming championships but the pint-sized Bahraini did set an unlikely new record on Friday.
Just 10-years-old, Tareq became the youngest ever competitor to race at the world championships when she competed in the heats of the women’s 50-metre butterfly.
Hopelessly out of her depth, she finished a distant last among the 64 competitors, reaching the end of the pool in a time of 41.13 seconds, almost 16 seconds behind the leading qualifiers.
“I am so happy to be here,” she told reporters. “I want to be able to learn the techniques and how they swim.”
Although Tareq didn’t come anywhere near the minimum qualifying times to compete at the world championships, she was allowed to compete because of a rule allowing each nation to have some limited representation.
“I am the fastest swimmer in Bahrain, and so they chose me,” she said.
FINA does not currently have any minimum age limits for competitors but sources said that was likely to be reviewed in the future.
Tareq’s participation in the sport’s most prestigious global championship drew a mixed response.
British freestyle sprinter Fran Halsall, said she didn’t ”know what to make of it“, adding: ”She’s tiny, but good on her to have a go. Bless her.”
Germany’s former world champion Franziska van Almisick, a child prodigy in the early 1990s, qualified for the 1991 world championships when she was just 13.
But she was not allowed to compete because the minimum age limit at the time was 14.
”I was allowed to start in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and I think 14 is a good age for it,” she told German media.
So small, her feet couldn’t reach the floor from the seats in the waiting room where swimmers gather before their races, Tareq said the response from other competitors had generally been positive.
“A few of them have been surprised to see me swim here,but they have always asked my name and how old my name,” she said.
Tareq, who said she started to swim in 2009, is also entered in the 50m freestyle, and because she competed at the world championships, she could be eligible to swim at next year’s Rio Olympics.
“I want to participate in the Olympics but I don’t want to be the last one there,” she said, adding that she has big plans for the future.
”It’s hard for me to beat the world record now but I can do it when I am older. When I am aged 15 or 16 I can do that I think.”
Editing by Julian Linden