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Monday, August 11, 2008

I Hate to Say It…

posted by on August 11 at 13:29 PM

… but I agree with Bela Karolyi. There’s no way to verify gymnasts’ ages, so you might as well drop the age requirement altogether.

Chinese gymnast Yang Yilin in 2007—supposedly, she was 15 years old at the time.

Gymnastics damages girls’ bodies more the longer they train at an elite level. Since it’s impossible to require that young girls not train at the highest level they can manage—even if they’re not permitted to compete—you might as well make it easier for them to compete at the Olympics early and then retire. Besides, it sucks that the age window is so narrow now for Olympic gymnasts. If you happen to be 15 in 2008, you’ll probably be too old for the sport by the time the next Olympics rolls around.

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They're so young it's creepy.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | August 11, 2008 1:37 PM

There's no way to [fill in the blank] so you might as well [fill in the other blank].

Your reasoning is underwhelming.

Posted by jebus h. xst | August 11, 2008 1:38 PM

Those poor little girls look like they're balding. Is is stress? Hormones? Anorexia?


Posted by schnoodle | August 11, 2008 1:42 PM

Can't we just cut off a limb and count the rings to determine their actual age?...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | August 11, 2008 1:48 PM

On the other hand, the German team has a 33 year old gymnast who will be in the Vault final.

Posted by Smade | August 11, 2008 1:54 PM

there is no way those girls were 16...I was cracking up last night when looking at that.

Posted by random poster | August 11, 2008 1:59 PM

The timing issue is moot, because female gymnastics is all about puberty, down to literally a few months on either side, when the hormones and the body growth are perfectly aligned (I think it's pretty much standard practice to manipulate their puberty as it is). So a fourth or an eighth of the pool of gymnasts is going to be out of luck anyways, unless they start holding the Olympics every year.

Posted by Fnarf | August 11, 2008 2:03 PM

I hate to say it but ... I have no idea what the age restrictions are ... or whether any other events have age restrictions.

The Slog post is no help on this score, and neither is the WaPo item.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | August 11, 2008 2:05 PM

@8: that's what confuses me too. The gymnastics restriction is 16, I think, but the UK has a 14-year-old diver competing. So clearly it's not uniform.

Posted by Abby | August 11, 2008 2:14 PM

They should just start being honest and call it "Pre-pubescent Girls' Gymnastics."

Posted by Greg | August 11, 2008 2:20 PM

It's not pre-pubescent you want. It's pubescent. You need those hormones flooding in, encouraging growth and muscle and energy, but too early and they'll have a woman's hips and thighs -- no good. You need that baby suppleness too. Sseriously, they control them with hormones. It's worse than bicycle racing.

Posted by Fnarf | August 11, 2008 2:49 PM

There shouldn't be any restrictions on age, or chemical enhancements. General Electric and Coca-Cola should exploit every last drop of performance from the children for the glory of The Homeland.

Posted by pox | August 11, 2008 3:33 PM

Age requiremtns for Olympic-recognized sports are set by the governing bodies for those sports. In the case of gymnastics, the minimum age is 16 years old, and is set by FIG, the governing body for artistic gymnastics. Diving presumably has different age requirements (if they have them at all).

The IOC doesn't want the responsibility of age-checking athletes, and leaves that to the governing bodies for individual sports. FIG, for whatever reason, isn't interested in getting involved in verifying the ages of gymnasts beyond a cursory check--this is why they've said that the ages listed on the Chinese girls' passports are within the limit and that's good enough for them, even though it's absurdly obvious to anyone with eyes that at least two of those girls are no more than 12 years old.

Watch men's gymnastics instead. They're generally adults, they're awesomely strong, and they aren't expected to be "cute" or "pretty" as part of their athletic performance.

Posted by stresskitten | August 11, 2008 3:34 PM

Right, maybe her mother is 15.

Posted by monkey | August 11, 2008 3:51 PM

Girl's gymnastics is fucked up.

Here's my question: I know that even among athletic and even world-class people women have a much harder time developing upper body strength especially with a weight-to-strength ratio. But there are women out there who are incredibly ripped, thin and with arms that could break rocks. Would they be able compete? How much of that is because of a bias about looks?

Anyway I just don't care to see kids do tricks. All sports have a body type, but I guess girls gymnastics doesn't do it for me.

Posted by daniel | August 11, 2008 4:06 PM

Totally perverse and freaky. This is arguably as bad as Kiddie Porn, exploiting the crap out of little girls for political glory and cash.

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | August 11, 2008 4:18 PM

I should point out that most teen girl basketball stars will probably have to replace their knee and hip joints at much younger ages than other women (like their 30s and 40s).

So it's not just gymnasts - although their dietary practices make it far worse.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 11, 2008 4:21 PM

@15: Honestly, almost none of it is bias against looks. You have to have almost zero body fat--and definitely no butt fat--to have the right weight distribution to compete in all events. You actually don't need an extraordinary amount of upper body strength in women's gymnastics; women don't compete in upper body strength-specific events like pommel horse, parallel bars, and rings. Vault, by the way, privileges slightly heavier gymnasts; that's why the 33-year-old (who still has basically no body fat; I have no idea how she had a kid) is still competitive in that event.

@7: Fnarf, it is about the onset of puberty, but gymnasts can generally avoid menarche until they stop working out 50 hours a week. That's much of the reason why it's kind of stupid to push gymnasts to compete at older ages. You're asking them to delay puberty longer, and that has a harmful effect on bone density.

Posted by annie | August 11, 2008 4:30 PM

@17: Admittedly, I quit gymnastics at a prepubescent 12, but I honestly don't think there's nearly as much disordered eating in the sport as there is in, say, figure skating or (god forbid) ballet. You have to have and maintain serious muscle mass in gymnastics, and that means eating constantly. I always had two dinners--one before and one after practice--when I was working out three hours a day.

Posted by annie | August 11, 2008 4:36 PM

Not true! Did you see the 33 year old on the vault?! It was awesome. And kind of creepy.

Posted by Carollani | August 11, 2008 4:46 PM

okay, so who saw the chinese women on uneven bars last night? the best female bar worker in the world is one of those underage 12-14 year old. her routine was impecable and beyond anything any female gymnast is doing. because of her age and size, she can train at intensities and perfect skills that her older competitors can't. her routine was truly awesome. but she fell off the bars. of course she did. she's only 12 years old, ferchrissake. putting that type of pressure on a child is abusive. the state-sponsored gymnastics system in china is abusive. there SHOULD be an age limit for international competitions. this won't change the abuse, but some sort of limits and protection of these children should in place.

been there, done that.

Posted by grace | August 11, 2008 6:52 PM

Yeah, He Kexin was great; I was scared she wouldn't be going on, because she could give Nastia Liukin a run for her money. Apparently they're both in though. But please--Chellsie Memmel fell off the bars too, and she's old enough, by FIG's standards. The fact is, competitive gymnastics is always and everywhere so intense as to raise the question of abuse, whether in China's economically coercive system or America's psychologically coercive system. If He wasn't competing at the Olympics, she'd be competing at a junior level under precisely the same amount psychological pressure. Don't be naive about the amount of pressure gymnasts are under outside of international competition. If young gymnasts are not allowed to compete at the Olympics, they will still be competing at insane levels--but they will be outside of the relative safety of the world spotlight, and they will be impelled to work for a longer period of time.

Try to ban the sport of gymnastics, if you like, but permitting only older gymnasts to compete won't do anything to combat the evils you've identified.

Posted by annie | August 11, 2008 8:13 PM

as I said in my initial comment, having age restrictions for the olympics will not end the abuse. but it will prevent the very distinct pressure of being a 12-year-old child performing for the glory of her country, which happens to be hosting this olympics under very intense international pressure (self-inflicted, yes) to prove superiority. and yes, the olympics is very different from other international competitions, and if you think this is not true, it is you who are being naive, annie. as I said in my first comment, been there, done that, both as an elite gymnast and as a coach of elite gymnasts, including national champions and an olympic alternate. I appreciate that you were a gymnast when you were 12, and that you have maintained interest in the sport. but I lived and breathed it for almost 20 years, and believe I understand on a different level the very real need to protect these children. of course I do have a bias--first as a gymnast in an abusive environment and then as a coach who perpetuated the abusive environment apparently necessary to produce elite gymnasts. now my bias is as an intern psychologist who understands childhood and adolescent development on a biopsychosocial spectrum. again, applying age restrictions will not end the abuse, but it can help to protect children from overzealous coaches who push these young athletes for their own glory/power or for that of their country.

Posted by grace | August 11, 2008 10:55 PM

Yeah... For god's sake lets not "abuse" these "children" by depriving them of a "child-hood" spent drinking carbonated corn syrup, eating chips, watching television and playing video games. You're right, it's criminal to enable them to develop a unique natural ability to its fullest extent by encouraging them to focus on training with an "adult" like concentration. (As if many "adults' in mainstream society are capable of focusing on anything.) God forbid they should strive for, and possibly realize, their goals at 15 (or even 12) and then pay the price for having done so with their bodies for the rest of their lives when they should be following mainstream societies example and (in all likely-hood) never really actually setting a goal to reach for and staying sedentary on their couch (and paying for that with their bodies for the rest of their lives.)

Here's the deal. Your only young once. Bodies get old and break down at variable speeds. Use them while you can to their maximum capability. "Child-hood" (a thoroughly modern American invention) does not develop a healthier or better adjusted adult. Talent should be exploited (primarily by the individual and secondarily by society). And it's always better to regret what you did in your youth than to regret what you did not do in your youth.

For every 13 year old girl "wrecking" her body and mind with strenuous athletic competition there are a hundred thousand of them "wrecking" their bodies and minds in the main stream manor... Junk food, TV, video games, pot and blow jobs. I know which I would rather regret at 30...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | August 12, 2008 12:53 PM

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