Minimum ice skating age raised to 17 after Olympic storm

The International Skating Union will raise the minimum age for competing athletes from 15 to 17 amid controversy surrounding Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva.

The 16-year-old, who turned 15 at the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, was initially banned from taking part in the Games after testing positive for the banned substance trimetazidine, despite having then allowed to compete.

The minimum age will now be 16 for the 2023-24 season, before rising to 17 from the 2024-25 season.

The ISU says the reason for this rule change is to protect the “physical and mental health and emotional well-being” of skaters.

Valieva was the overwhelming favorite to win figure skating gold in Beijing earlier this year, having become European champion shortly before the start of the Games.

The Russian helped her nation win gold in the team event but a drugs test she failed in December 2021 was revealed ahead of the medal ceremony.

However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport pointed to “exceptional circumstances” regarding his age and the timing of the result. Her ban was therefore lifted and the teenager was allowed to compete.

The 15-year-old failed to win a medal and left the arena in tears, leading to widespread backlash over the decision to allow her to compete.

For now, the doping case is still unresolved. The Russian anti-doping agency (Rusada) has six months from the discovery of Valieva’s infraction to make a decision on possible sanctions. This could mean that the decision is postponed until August.

Many have suggested that 15 is too young an age to participate in competitive elite sport, but many figure skaters seem to hit their peak in their teens.

Valieva is the current women’s short program world record holder and has set nine world records in her career.

Nor is it an anomaly. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, fellow Russian Alina Zagatova won individual gold at the age of 15.

Other sports, such as gymnastics, are similar. Indeed, in the Olympic gymnastics all-around, no competitor over the age of 19 has won gold since 1972.

The likes of Zagitova wouldn’t have been able to compete had the new rule been in place at the time and the Russian is no longer in medal contention.

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