Ten-year-old Alzain Tareq of Bahrain became the youngest ever competitor to race at the FINA World Aquatics Championships when she competed in the heats of the women's 50-metre butterfly on Friday.
Hopelessly out of her depth, she finished a distant last among the 64 competitors, reaching the end of the pool in a time of 41.13 seconds, almost 16 seconds behind the leading qualifiers.
Tareq, left, arrives to compete in the preliminary heats of the women's 50m butterfly event. So small her feet don't reach the floor from the seats in the waiting room, Tareq said the response from other competitors had generally been positive. (AFP Photo)
"I am so happy to be here," she told reporters. "I want to be able to learn the techniques and how they swim."
Although Tareq didn't come anywhere near the minimum qualifying times to compete at the world championships, she was allowed to compete because of a rule allowing each nation to have some limited representation.
"I am the fastest swimmer in Bahrain, and so they chose me," Tareq said. (AFP Photo)
FINA does not currently have any minimum age limits for competitors but sources said that was likely to be reviewed in the future.
Tareq's participation drew a mixed response. British freestyle sprinter Fran Halsall, said she didn't 'know what to make of it', adding, "She's tiny, but good on her to have a go. Bless her." (AFP Photo)
Germany's former world champion Franziska van Almisick, a child prodigy in the early 1990s, qualified for the 1991 world championships when she was just 13. But she was not allowed to compete because the minimum age limit at the time was 14.
"I was allowed to start in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and I think 14 is a good age for it," Almisick told German media. (AFP Photo)
Tareq, who started swimming in 2009, is also entered in the 50m freestyle, and because of her participation at the championships, she could be eligible to swim at next year's Rio Olympics. (Reuters Photo)
"I want to participate in the Olympics but I don't want to be the last one there," she said, adding that she has big plans for the future.
"It's hard for me to beat the world record now but I can do it when I am older. When I am aged 15 or 16 I can do that I think," Tareq said. (AFP Photo)