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For the typical elementary school swimmer, being able to dog paddle in the pool is an accomplishment. But 10-year-old Alzain Tareq isn’t your typical elementary school swimmer.
The Bahrainian girl became the youngest ever competitor at a World Championships on Friday in Kazan, Russia, when she swam in the 50 meter butterfly heats. Tareq, whose mother is Scottish, finished with a time of 41.13 seconds, which, yes, was last in a field of 64, but come on. That’s amazing.
She finished five seconds behind the next slowest swimmer in the field, but she was competing against swimmers like 25-year-old Fran Halsall, who won medals in 2005 — the year Tareq was born — and 21-year-old Sarah Sjostrom, who Tareq named as her idol. She was hardly discouraged by her finish.
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“I feel so happy,” she told The Guardian after her performance. “I was a bit nervous walking out there, I have never swum in front of so many. It was cool today and I am looking forward to swimming again tomorrow.”
So how did a 10-year-old girl from Bahrain end up in a Russian pool? Currently, There’s no age restriction on World Championship entrants, although that hasn’t always been the case. According to The Guardian, it’s unclear when World Championship age limits against swimmers under 14 were removed, but at the world junior championships, the entrants must be at least 14 to swim.
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Nevertheless, Tareq’s time at the World Champions has been an invaluable learning experience. She’s been able to take pictures with and speak to her hero Sjostrom and fellow swimmers have been very welcoming.
“Every time she sees me she gives me the biggest smile,” American swimmer Missy Franklin said. Halsall called her “dinky,” but commended her spirit.
“Good on her for having a go,” she said.
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On her part, Tareq is soaking it all up.
“I feel so happy,” she told BBC. “I want to learn the techniques and how they swim.”
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