Figure skater minimum age for high-level competition will be raised from 15 to 17: NPR

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with medal-winning Russian athletes from the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and members of the country’s Paralympic team at the Moscow Kremlin, April 26 – The Valieva’s birthday.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images


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Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images


Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with medal-winning Russian athletes from the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and members of the country’s Paralympic team at the Moscow Kremlin, April 26 – The Valieva’s birthday.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

The International Skating Union is raising the minimum age for athletes in its most prestigious competitions from 15 to 17. The move comes months after Russia’s Kamila Valieva was caught up in a storm of controversy at the Beijing Winter Olympics when she was just 15. .

The age requirement will remain unchanged for the upcoming season, but will increase to 16 the following year and 17 for the 2024-25 season ahead of the 2026 Winter Olympics.

The new minimum age will apply to several disciplines, from speed skating and figure skating to ice dancing and synchronized skating, after the ISU Congress approved the changes Tuesday at its biennial meeting.

Under the new ISU requirements, skaters will need to reach the minimum age by July 1 before the upcoming event – the same deadline as currently used. ISU delegates approved proposed changes at their biennial reunion which is currently taking place at a resort in Phuket, Thailand.

In Beijing, Valieva was considered one of the top contenders for a medal. But she found herself embroiled in a huge doping controversy. She faced intense scrutiny and pressure, raising questions about her independence from her coaches and putting a new emphasis on ISU rules.

The athlete asks: is a medal worth risking a child’s health?

The ISU board of directors said the change will protect young athletes from injuries caused by the physical rigors of elite sport. He also noted mental health concerns about handling the pressures of the global spotlight.

During the debate on the issue, the ISU Athletes’ Commission presented the results of a survey of more than 960 athletes and coaches, saying that 86% were in favor of raising the age limit to 17 years old for senior competitions.

Eric Radford, three-time Olympic medalist from Canada, spoke on behalf of the athletes.

“An athlete’s life is short and intense. His experience in this short period of his life sets the stage for the rest of his life, physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said.

Radford acknowledged the difficulties some countries may face in adapting to the age change. But, he added, “hopefully the long-term implications are those that are considered with more weight and importance.

“I ask the question: is a medal worth risking the health of a child or a young athlete?” Radford said.

Delegates approved the proposal by a margin of 100 to 16, with a handful of abstentions – a result that immediately drew cheers and applause.

The United States sought to delay the transition to the 17

Representing the United States, former skater Troy Goldstein said he supported the New Age proposal in general – but he joined a few other delegates in saying the ISU should wait until after the next Olympics in winter to raise the minimum age to 17 years.

Goldstein said it was “absolutely” the right decision to raise the age to 16. But he said turning 17 before the 2026 Winter Games in Italy would affect the development and retention of skaters, especially in disciplines such as pair skating.

Serbian delegate Slobodan Delic echoed Goldstein’s sentiments. He also noted that the United States had already reaped the rewards of ISU age policies, referring to Tara Lipinski winning a gold medal at 15 years old at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano.

Expert calls change ‘a good first step’

“The physical, emotional and social pressures of elite sport can be too much for adults to handle, and even more difficult for children,” sports doping expert April Henning of the University of Stirling told NPR. in Scotland. The age change is “a good first step for several reasons”, she added.

Henning notes that in sports like figure skating or gymnastics, where athletes whose bodies are not yet fully developed may have an advantage, competitors may be treated more like little adults rather than vulnerable people.

“In terms of doping, this may offer some protection, but there really needs to be greater independent oversight of how young athletes are treated” by coaches and others as they develop, said Henning said. “This is especially true for athletes who are not yet in the anti-doping system and who may be more vulnerable to both coercion and the risk of harm from use.”

Calls for change intensified after Valieva’s ordeal

In Beijing, Valieva, who turned 16 at the end of April, was the favorite in the women’s individual figure skating event. She had achieved transcendent early performances, including becoming the first woman to land a quad jump in an Olympic competition.

Then news emerged that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The case was further complicated by her status as a minor and her ability to consent to medical decisions.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Valieva to participate in the women’s final. But the teenager’s routine took place on the ice and she broke down in tears.

Valieva’s case prompted the International Olympic Committee to take the extraordinary decision not to hold a medal ceremony for the team figure skating competition in Beijing. Valieva’s Russian team finished in first place in the event, ahead of the American team.

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