The world swimming championships’ youngest competitor is set to make a controversial splash in the Kazan pool on Friday when ten-year-old Alzain Tareq races in the women’s 50m freestyle heats.
The schoolgirl from Bahrain says she will not “fear anything or anybody” when she takes part in the freestyle sprint or Saturday’s 50m butterfly heats.
Age is no restriction for the swimming section of the world aquatic championships where racers qualify from their country’s national trials.
Despite her tender years, Tareq is the fastest female swimmer in her Middle Eastern country and her father funds her travels to compete.
She trains five days a week, twice a day, in the mornings and the evenings, fitting her sessions around her schoolwork and her favourite subject is maths.
Her parents, especially her father who is a former pro swimmer, have been encouraging her to compete since she was seven.
Despite her self-confidence, her times do not suggest a fair fight on the world stage.
Her qualifying time of 41.12 seconds in the 50m butterfly is dwarfed by the world record of 24.43 secs, set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom which could well fall.
All four rivals in her opening heat on Friday have swum nearly ten seconds faster and her young age has drawn concerns in Kazan, where she is sure to get a lot of media attention when she races.
While Plymouth-based breaststroker Ruta Meilutyte and United States freestyle-specialist Katie Ledecky both won Olympic titles aged just 15 at the 2012 London Games, Tareq is not even a teenager.
Germany’s former 200m freestyle champion Franziska van Almsick has questioned whether Tareq should be allowed to compete while still so young.
“I would have thought there would be an age limit, because I was not allowed to race at the world championships in Perth in 1991 when I was only 13,” she told German daily Bild.
“I was allowed to start in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and I think 14 is a good age for it.”