Gymnastics: Size is the Competitors Edge
Girl’s gymnastics is a very competitive sport; every little detail matters in every event. A gymnast’s size is something that can make or break her gymnastics career. If the gymnast is too tall or too heavy she will have trouble doing what gymnasts say are simple tricks. The gymnast will not be able to jump high enough or get the amount of rotation fast enough to land on her feet; she will hurt herself. “For a gymnast the arrival of puberty can be the end of an impossibly short career” (Seal 1). The rigorous training involved in gymnastics is stunting girls’ growth and delaying puberty, helping their careers last longer. Many of the girl’s coaches and parents are advocating for poor diets that lack adequate nutrition so that their best gymnasts will stay small. Stunted growth is more common in girls that started gymnastics at an early age and is more noticeable. Stunted growth and delayed puberty is becoming more common in girls gymnastics due to the early age at which they are becoming competitive. The sport of gymnastics has changed immensely since the 1970’s, it has become more competitive, and the average age has dropped along with the average size. “In 1972 the average age for girls gymnastics in the Olympics was in her mid to low twenties, by 1996 the average age was 15” (Barry 1). In the 1972 Olympics, Olga Korbut won the gold medal on beam for Russia. She completed a full rotation back flip on beam. Olga’s back flip would not even faze the judges today. Now girls complete three back flips in a row without blinking. The intensity of the sport has been raised to a whole new level. “Now the sport requires young, prepubescent girls who are able to use their tiny frames to perform flips and feats that their elders would never have dared” (Barry). In the 1976 Olympics, Nadia Comaneci won three gold medals for Romania. “She was 14, 4-feet 11-inches and weighed 86 pounds” (Seal 1). Nadia Comaneci’s performance made many coaches around the world come to the realization that the smaller the girl, the better the gymnast, and by 1992, the average gymnast was 88 pounds and 16-years old. Gymnastics is an intense sport for teenagers with small stature and if they want to make it to the Olympics before puberty kicks in, it has to be intense starting at an early age. Sixteen is now the required age to enter the Olympics in the sport of gymnastics, but many feel that it should be younger. People enjoy watching small pint-size girls performing incredible stunts; it draws a crowd along with attention to the sport. “Unlike their male counterparts, who have to grow into their roles; women are encouraged to stop growing” (Barry 1). In gymnastics, girl’s peak performance is in their early teens and many coaches would like to push for a younger age limit because of this. “The younger gymnasts are usually the best, and they are least susceptible to injury” (Barry 1). The Olympics has an age limit because they do not want young kids who can easily be influenced. “The 14 and 15-year-old gymnasts are being exploited parents and coaches find it easier to control kids at that age” (Barry 1). Many coaches and parents force their kids to practice insane hours and take away their childhood. With the age limit being raised to 16 to be able to enter the Olympics, gymnasts are being forced to sustain their pre-pubertal shape longer, and this could cause serious problems. Gymnasts that have their dreams set on making it to the Olympics start competing at an early age, some as early at five. Gymnastics is very stressful on the body, and some researchers, such as a group by Dennis Caine, have come to the conclusion through studies, that the type of stress put on the bones during intense gymnastics training is responsible for stunting a gymnast’s growth. “Growth rate of leg length is stunted in highly-trained gymnasts, leading to disproportionately short legs and short stature”...
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