Kazan - Alzain Tareq describes competing against adults at
the world championships as 'cool', her idols are swimming stars Cate Campbell
and Sarah Sjostrom - and she's only 10 years old.
The Bahraini caused a splash at the Kazan pool on Friday
morning when she raced in the women's 50m butterfly heats.
The tiny Middle Eastern schoolgirl finished last in her heat
after swimming 41.13 seconds, nine behind the heat winner, and is believed to
be the youngest swimmer to have ever swum at a world championships.
Overall, she was 15 seconds off the fastest time of 25.43
seconds, set by Sjostorm, the world record-holder, who swam in a later heat,
and was last of the 64 competitors who raced in the event.
Tareq caused a stir in the media mixed zone as reporters
clamoured to interview the pint-sized swimmer, who coped admirably with the
television cameras' glare and answered all questions in crystal-clear English.
"I'm happy, I feel so happy. It was really cool,"
she beamed when asked what it was like to swim against adults here.
Swimming's governing body FINA has confirmed there is
currently no age restriction on swimmers competing at either a world
championships or an Olympics Games.
So the Bahrain schoolgirl, who is her country's fastest
swimmer, has a clear goal, one year from Rio de Janeiro 2016: "I want to
swim at the Olympics, but I don't want to be the last one".
Sjostrom's world record of 24.43 seconds is on her bucket
"It's hard for me to beat the world record now, but I
can do that when I am older. When I am 15 or 16," she said.
Britain's Fran Halsall, one of the favourites for a 50m
butterfly medal, was surprised someone so young was racing.
"I don't know what to make of it - she's dinky (tiny).
Good on her for having a go," said the English swimmer, who was fifth
fastest in qualifying for Friday night's semi-finals.
Tareq is also competing in Saturday's 100m freestyle heats
and was pleased to have met her heroes in Kazan.
"I met Sarah (Sjostrom) from Sweden, I spoke to her and
asked if I could take my picture with her and she told me 'good luck',"
she said with a smile.
"Cate Campbell from Australia is my idol too... and her
"I took a picture with Cate, but not her sister, and
Cate didn't really talk to me."
While most of her peers back home are concerning themselves
with homework, Tareq is busy juggling her studies with improving her swimming.
"I train five days a week, sometimes I train once a
day, and sometimes twice," she explained.
"I have school from 7am until 2pm, then I have an
hour's rest, then I go home and I study.
"We have a 50 and a 25m pool (in Bahrain), we have
about 20 girls who swim, but there are more than 20 boys.
"I am the fastest swimmer in Bahrain and so they chose
me, but there are younger swimmers there, they are eight years old."
While qualifying from the heats is not a realistic goal, she
is treating Kazan as a chance to learn from the swimming world's elite.
"I want to learn the techniques and how they
swim," she explained.
She admitted it was a nerve-wracking experience swimming in
front of a crowd of around 4 000 for the morning's heats and said she gets a
surprised reaction from her fellow competitors.
"I was a bit nervous walking out there, I have never
swum in front of so many spectators," she said.
"The other swimmers are often surprised, they ask me my
name and how old I am and then they are like 'are you swimming here?'"
Plymouth-based breaststroker Ruta Meilutyte and United
States freestyle-specialist Katie Ledecky both won Olympic titles aged just 15
at the 2012 London Games.
Germany's former 200m freestyle champion Franziska van
Almsick, who won her first Olympic medals in 1992 at the Barcelona games aged
14, has said the age limit of competing at a major championships should be from
A FINA source has said the age issue is set to be discussed
at their next meeting.