Syria's first table tennis Olympian looking beyond Rio

Sun Jul 24, 2016 9:15pm EDT
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By Ahmed Abd El Latif

(Reuters) - Teenager Heba Allejji, Syria's first Olympic table-tennis player, says she wants to show that the sport is alive and well in her country despite the civil war that is driving many fellow players abroad.

The 19-year-old, ranked 667 in the world, was awarded a spot by the International Olympic committee under the tripartite category, which is available to countries that had an average of fewer than eight athletes at the past two Games.

"Syria has a lot of people playing table tennis ... (but) the number who stay is so little," she told Reuters by phone on Monday from government-held central Damascus, where she trains and pursues her pharmacy studies.

She began playing table tennis a decade ago and was spotted by a coach after her brother brought her to play at a center close to their home.

Originally from the province of Hasaka, she moved to Damascus after conditions became "inappropriate".

"The most important thing for me is to show a superb level and to represent my country well. I want to confirm that we are still able to play and train in Syria," she said.

"If I face players such as the Lebanese player (Mariana Sahakian), who won the gold in the West Asian Championship that qualified her for the Olympics, I can win ...

"It will be difficult when I face players from China and South Korea."   Continued...