Female figure skaters are getting younger and younger, and there’s a big reason why.

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When Mariah Bell takes to the ice in Beijing, she will go down in American history. At just 25, she will be the oldest female figure skater on Team USA in 94 years. And if you find yourself scratching your head, you might be surprised to learn more about how women’s figure skating has changed over the years.

Even at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it was clear that the figure skaters called up to compete were getting younger and younger every year, especially in countries like Russia. Why is this happening then?

Part of it comes down to the strain of tough competition jumps like triple axes and quads combined during puberty that alters an athlete’s center of gravity and ability to withstand physical stress. Just listen to the point of view of Alysa Liu, figure skater for the American team: “Before going through puberty or growing up, [your jumps] come very easily and you learn them quickly because you’re tiny and you can fall really hard and it doesn’t affect you,” they said. Defector. “Then when I grew up my legs got longer and everything changed. You almost have to relearn a lot of what you have because you’re working with a completely different car. It’s like you take a car and you could do anything with it, and all of a sudden you have this new car and you have to learn how to work with it.

Alysa’s experience is not uncommon in the world of figure skating. here’s how five thirty eight describes it in a long story on the importance of quadruple jumps in modern figure skating:

“As many figure skating experts have noted, some Russian quad jumpers use a technique that involves pre-rotation, which means they start twisting their upper body before lifting off the ice, which which allows the skater to complete four revolutions before landing.This technique depends on the skater being small and light and puts extra pressure on the back as the skater does not use leg strength as much as she should, and once the skater starts going through puberty, she tends to lose her jumps because the technique wasn’t good to begin with.These athletes also tend to retire before their 18th birthday, often citing back injuries as a cause. [Russian coach Eteri] Tutberidze’s students also use this technique on their triplets, which makes even those jumps difficult to maintain after puberty.

In years past, it was the triple axel that was once the coveted jump of women’s figure skating, the holy grail needed to win. (Who can forget the legendary moment when Mirai Nagasu landed it at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, becoming the first American woman and only the third overall to successfully land it at the Games?) But a lot has changed since then. then and now everything revolves around the quadruple revolution.

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But continuing to do quads in women’s skating can be dangerous and has led to injury and high athlete turnover, especially in Russia. Even so, there are some who are pushing against the grain, like Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, a Russian alternate at these Olympics who is also 25 and continues to stay competitive thanks to her consistent triple axel.

Between trying to compete with younger skaters who haven’t hit puberty and having to figure out ways to make up judging points without quads, it’s hard for women who aren’t teenagers to stay in the game, but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible either. Carolina Kostner of the Italy team, who has competed in the last four Olympics, was 30 years old at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. And now we have Mariah, who will face the 15-year-old first, Kamila Valieva, of Russia .

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That said, being a once-in-a-century American athlete doesn’t seem to bother Mariah at all, and she’s not about to quit competing anytime soon. “I’m really excited to have that title of ‘old’, I guess, because I don’t feel old at all. I want to continue for many more years, and I especially want other young girls in skating to know that doesn’t have to end at a certain point,” she said. On its territory.

We can’t wait to see her set a new standard and maybe win a medal!

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