Minimum age for figure skaters? Some at the Beijing Olympics say it’s a good idea

Updated February 17, 2022 9:34 a.m. ET

BEIJING – Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has completed their short program routine earlier this week and quickly broke down in tears. After skating off the ice, the emotional Valieva grabbed a stuffed animal her coach handed her and waited to be judged. She finished the program in first place.

In the days leading up to her event, the 15-year-old skater came under intense scrutiny after a pre-Games doping violation came to light. She was still cleared to compete in the women’s figure skating final on Thursday despite the violation and eventually placed fourth after several stumbles.

Valieva’s participation in the Games after the positive test has drawn heavy criticism – but even some of those critics say that ultimately the teenager isn’t entirely to blame here. At such a young age, Valieva is guided by a team of adults – officials and coaches who make decisions for her.

Former Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon recently criticized Valieva’s team. Rippon coaches American figure skater Mariah Bell.

“Valieva is 15 years old. I doubt very much that she knowingly doped. She is underage. The adults have completely let her down,” he added. he told NPR.

The Valieva scandal has led some in the figure skating community, including current skaters and coachesrenew calls for higher minimum ages for Olympic competition.

Proponents of the idea say older skaters would be better able to defend themselves, have more mature to deal with intense pressure, and would have a better sense of when something was wrong.

“I’m totally okay with that,” Bell said Tuesday, after competing in the figure skating short program.

In general, the International Olympic Committee does not set an age limit for participating in the Olympics – it depends on the governing body of each sport.

The International Skating Union has set 15 as the minimum age for competition in figure skating. The prospect of pushing back the age has been debated at the ISU in recent years. Recent reports indicate that another proposal will be presented to the ISU later this year.

Jackie Wong, figure skating analyst for the Rocker Skating website, said there were several issues to consider before making sweeping changes. He said that in some ways raising the minimum age could be good for the longevity of the sport and its athletes.

On the other hand, he says, if an athlete is at his best at 15, is it fair to penalize them?

It’s worthless that this debate focuses on female skaters. Most male skaters don’t peak like teenagers like young women — partly because their bodies mature more slowly, Wong said.

Young skaters talk about the challenges of the sport

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Mariah Bell of the United States skates during the Women’s Individual Skating Short Program on Day 11 of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

The world of Olympic-level figure skating is extremely tough on young women, top US said the skaters.

“It’s hard enough for me, and I’m 25. I don’t know what it would be like if I was 10 years younger,” Bell said.

She thinks only athletes 18 and older should perform at this level. Notably, her teammate, American figure skater Alysa Liu, is only 16 years old.

Female athletes also deal with body-shaming in ways that male competitors do not. This can have a disastrous effect on self-esteem and mental health.

“It’s a very big problem in skating. I faced a lot of negativity two years ago,” Liu told reporters. She was then only 14 years old.

The United States has also had great success with young skaters at recent Games. Liu is one. Another is Tara Lipinski, who won an Olympic gold medal at just 15, and Sarah Hughes, who also won gold at 16.

In 2018, snowboarder Chloe Kim, then just 17 years old, shot to fame after the Pyeongchang Olympics. After winning her first gold medal, she said she struggled with pressure and suffered from depression. Kim, now 22, said getting older has helped her handle attention and criticism better.

Building a sport with athletic longevity

Natasha Mckay of Great Britain skates during the women's short program at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

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Natasha McKay of Great Britain skates during the women’s short program at the Winter Olympics.

At just 25 years old, Bell is considered a veteran of the sport.

“I think [raising the age minimum for competition] would promote this idea of ​​longevity and someone being 25 wouldn’t be shocking,” she said.

Natasha McKay, a 27-year-old British skater, is one of the oldest competitors in the field of Olympic female figure skaters.

“I only jumped when I was much older,” she told reporters this week. “I was the odd one out. In a way I feel that helps me, because my legs are still going and I haven’t quit competing yet, even though I’m 27.”

On the discussion of increasing the age, she said: “I don’t see anything wrong with increasing the age because the bodies will be more developed and there will be less injuries, but whatever the whatever decision they make, they will.”

It’s hard to standardize age restrictions in skating, according to Wong.

“Every body grows differently,” he said. Raising the competition age for women would likely help the sport in the long run.

Young teenage skaters often retire prematurely due to injury or burnout.

Wong said, “I would like to see more skaters being able to have more sustainable, long-term careers rather than people peaking at a certain age and not coming back to that point.”

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