10-Year-Old Alzain Tareq Enjoying World Championship Experience

Photo Courtesy: Maria Dobysheva

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Alzain Tareq finished dead last in the women’s 50 butterfly at the FINA world championships with a 41.13, and 105th out of 113 in the 50 free with a 35.78. And yet, she was arguably more popular than Katie Ledecky among reporters in the mixed zone in the Kazan Arena.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the native of Bahrain is just 10 years old, by far the youngest swimmer in the competition. She’s here as part of FINA’s policy which gives swimmers in developing countries the opportunity to experience racing at the highest level. These athletes don’t have to meet qualifying times set by FINA.

Alzain is easy to spot, despite being more than a foot shorter than her fellow swimmers. She wore a hot pink swimsuit and goggles with pink mirrored lenses and pink straps. Her swim cap bulged over her large bun of hair inside.

With nearly two dozen microphones and tape recorders mere inches from her face, she was soft-spoken and shy, but definitely showed her joy over swimming in the pool with some of her idols. She mentioned Missy Franklin and Sarah Sjostrom as two people she wanted to meet, and her wish was fulfilled during her time in Kazan.

“I took a picture with (Franklin),” Alzain said, wrapped in her tiny jacket. She got to swim in the same lane as Franklin in the training pool, but the two did not get the opportunity to have an extensive conversation.

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The International Olympic Committee has put an age restriction on athletes at the Olympic Games after controversy surrounding preteen gymnasts and divers in the competition. No such limits exist at the FINA world championships, with a few 12-year-olds joining Alzain in the meet in various events. That means Alzain won’t be able to travel to Rio next year for the Olympics, but she could take the trip to Budapest for the 2017 world championships for another opportunity to meet her heroes.

Like her Franklin and Sjostrom, Alzain wanted to get best times at the meet, something that is easier to do at 10 years old. She didn’t do that in the 50 butterfly, but came back the following day to drop about three seconds off her personal best in the 50 free. Alzain is at the meet with her father, who she said would be happy that she made a big time drop in sprint freestyle.

“It’s a great feeling for me,” she said. “I feel so happy now.”

8 Comments

8 comments

  1. avatar
    Bill V.

    Adorable, even though she doesn’t belong there at all.

    • avatar
      Jeff Commings

      Why do you not think she belongs there, Bill? Because of her age? Her time?

      • avatar
        Bill V.

        Worlds is not a developmental meet.

  2. avatar
    Dave

    I agree with Bill. She doesn’t belong at Worlds. She is not a world class swimmer. She didn’t earn her spot, but only was able to enter based on a clause that allowed countries without qualifiers to participate. Where does she go from here? There is no evidence that early success correlates with long term achievement. Has she peaked at 11? I can imagine there are overzealous parents expecting their 10 year old child to swim at Worlds. I bet some parent is yelling at his/her kid, saying why aren’t you good enough like Alzain. Also, some parents will be expecting their kid’s coach to get them qualified for Worlds. This is just a bad situation all around. Of course, media from around the world get caught up in the story, give her undeserved attention, and overall ignore the achievement of 100s of more qualified swimmers. I feel strongly that this is a bad thing to have 10 year olds swimming at the highest level meets our sport offers.

    • avatar
      Hector

      I agree

    • avatar
      Dunc1952

      Nothing against Alzain Tareq, but the media’s undeserved adulation/face time of her is offensive. She is not to blame; neither is FINA, really. They just have a vanilla set of rules, both in age and time standards for countries only sending squads of one. I’m just spit balling here, but I’m willing to bet she’s not the fastest female swimmer in Bahrain, and therefore not worthy of the slot allowed to that country without requirement of a time standard. It seems likely her access to the solo Bahrainian entry has more to do with a dad/relative wanting to give the little girl a shiny new toy. And a media failing to recognize that giving time to the “cutesy” little one diminishes the athletic quality in the main meet.
      To justify the “look to the future” special on Alzain, maybe they could have done a comparison showing current development of 10&Unders that might actually be on pace to legitimately compete in the meet in a few years, such as Miriam Sheehan of Phoenix Swim Club who in the last several months has set National Age Group records in multiple strokes, both short course yards and long course meters, including marks set about a decade ago by Olympic medalists Lea Neal and Elizabeth Beisel. For comparison, while Alzain couldn’t break 40 seconds in the 50 meter Butterfly, Sheehan became the first person in her age group to break 30 seconds, :29.84. That means when Miriam finished, Alzain would have not yet reached 38 meters. We have a hard enough time getting the press to take our sport seriously without serving up an Alzain story on a plate, especially when not recognizing the best. The press was obviously willing to be manipulated away from concentration on the great athletes if there is an easy gimmick available. I hope Alzain turns out great; she’s not yet worthy..

      • avatar
        Dunc1952

        That should read, “…diminishes serious recognition of the athletic quality in the main meet.”

Author: Jeff Commings

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Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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