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Meet the youngest athletes at sport’s biggest stage

AJ Vinayak | Updated on July 28, 2021

Several Indians made their debut at the Olympics when they were in their teens — the youngest was just 11

How young can you be to get selected for the Olympics? At the ongoing Tokyo Games, two 12-year-olds — Syrian table-tennis player Hend Zaza, and Japanese skateboarder Kokona Hiraki — are the youngest.

But, they are, by no means, the youngest Olympians. Gymnast Dimitrios Loundras of Greece was just 10 years and 216 days old when he participated in the 1896 summer Olympics. What’s more he was a medal winner — going home with a bronze medal

India was not far behind in sending the youngest participant to the Olympics. Arati Saha of India was just 11 years and 306 days old when she participated in the swimming (aquatics) event of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Born on September 24 1940, Saha was a distance swimmer. According to Olympedia, she achieved fame in September 1959 when she became the first Asian woman to swim the English Channel, crossing from France-to-England in 16 hours and 20 minutes. On the 80th birth anniversary, Google created a Google Doodle in her honour.

 

Sixty five contestants aged below 20 years have taken part in the different editions of Olympics. Some of the noted names include PT Usha, Abhinav Bindra, Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh and Leander Paes.

Sprint queen Usha, popularly known as the ‘Payyoli Express’, was only 16 years and 66 days when she participated in the Olympics GameS in the then Soviet Union. Later on, she participated in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Shuttler Saina Nehwal was 18 years and 145 days when she participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Though she did not win a medal in that edition, she won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics. She also participated in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra was 17 years and 356 days when he participated in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He participated in five editions of Olympics since then. However, the Beijing Olympics of 2008 was the ‘golden year’ for him as he bagged a gold medal in men’s Air Rifle (10 metres) contest. This was the first individual gold medal won by an Indian participant in any sport.

Indefatigable tennis player Leander Paes was 19 years and 41 days old when he participated in the men’s singles event in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He has participated in seven editions of Olympics since then. He bagged a bronze medal in the men’s singles in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Pugilist Vijender Singh was 18 years and 291 days old when he participated in the Light Welterweight (men) category in 2004’s Greece Olympics. He went on to win a bronze medal in the Middleweight category in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was also the flagbearer of the Indian team in the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics. He also participated in the Middleweight category of the 2012 London Olympics.

Published on July 28, 2021

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