Gymnastics: World’s Most Dangerous Sport?
Hundreds of thousands of parents put their kids into gymnastics at an early age. Many dream of Olympic glory or college scholarships, and while many parents view gymnastics as having some risks, most do not appreciate how many life threatening injuries have occurred at all levels of the sport. They see gymnastics as a means to enhance elegance and increase strength, unaware of the hidden dangers that lurk behind every jump, tumble, vault and dismount. Gymnastics pushes kids so far that they are literally dying in their pursuit of perfection. This sport is notorious for eating disorders and lethal moves that can shatter lives in an instant. As athletes move up the ladder of competition the incidence of serious injury increases. These increases are driven by an ever-shrinking margin of error between a safe move and one destined for serious injury. Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, cited a study from 1990 to 2005 on gymnastic injuries involving children. During that time, “nearly 27,000 gymnasts were hospitalized annually.” The study in Pediatrics found “an estimated 425,900 children 6 through 17 years of age were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for gymnastics-related injuries during the 16 year period of 1990-2005.” Most parents view gymnastics as a safe sport due to its non-contact nature. However, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Principal Investigator Lara McKenzie stated, “gymnastics has the same clinical incidence of catastrophic injuries as ice hockey.” Gymnastics is known for its graceful movements, but as the statistics above show the sport can be very dangerous and each year tens of thousands of young gymnasts end up in hospitals with injuries suffered while competing.
The current gymnastic scoring system is inherently unfair, in that it causes gymnasts to strive for something that they cannot obtain. Back in the 1970s, when Nadia Comaneci was a gymnast, the scoring system was a lot more lenient than it is now of days. Comaneci, famous for performing seven Perfect 10 routines, was the first and only gymnast to ever accomplish this feat. Now judges have stated that the Perfect 10 no longer exists because executing a perfect routine is not possible. Judges feel it is their responsibility to find the minor errors that will always exist in any routine. With the judges holding all the cards, a gymnast who is striving for perfection can never win. Obtaining a 9.95, an almost near perfect score, is still considered a disappointment for many gymnasts. Right from the beginning, a gymnast knows they can never achieve the perfect score but they think that if Nadia Comaneci was able to do it and not just do it but seven times, then they should not be satisfied with anything less. This obsession with perfection drives many gymnasts to take unsafe chances or to train beyond their body’s limits. Coaches and athletes must work together to establish realistic goals that, while continually raising the bar, does not force an athlete to take undue risks. History has shown that setting difficult goals, even those thought to be impossible, can improve performance without resulting in serious injury. Prior to 1954 running a mile in under 4 minutes was thought to be impossible. Yet in 1954 Roger Bannister proved that thought wrong, running 3’59’4’’. Fifty years after Bannister made history, the once impossible 4-minute mile record has been lowered by nearly 17 seconds. This happened because people believed that if Banister was able to do it, then they could improve on that. However, in gymnastics, the scoring system is going in the opposite direction. No matter how well a routine is executed, judges will refuse to award a perfect score. The gymnastic scoring system has been viewed as being too harsh and inherently unfair. Unfortunately there is no current movement by the governing bodies to change the scoring...
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