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Age limits in gymnastics are an unfair Olympics barrier

Chinese gymnast He Kexin, center, is seen with teammates at a news conference at the Samsung Pavilion at the Beijing Games on Friday.

BEIJING -- The International Olympic Committee has asked the international gymnastics federation (FIG) to probe China’s gymnasts. They might be underage.

There are claims that Chinese double gold medalist He Kexin is younger than the eligible age to compete in the Olympic Games. She registered at the Beijing Olympics as a 16-year-old. Gymnasts must turn (at least) 16 years of age during the year of the Games. There have been some discrepancies regarding He’s age and the IOC has requested the investigation.

Inspired_by_diabetes_3 But is this really cheating?

I don’t understand why a 14-year-old can’t compete in the Olympics. It’s supposed to be the best in sport and He won. Who cares if she’s 14?

I remember being 14. There is no advantage in the world to being 14, unless you are competing in a pimple contest. When I think of being 14, I think weak and awkward, not Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics. I would imagine that being 14 would be a terrible disadvantage.

I guess I don’t know very much about gymnastics.

Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if a 14-year-old beat you at the Olympics though, just a little?

-- Gary Hall Jr.

Photo: Chinese gymnast He Kexin, center, is seen with teammates at a news conference at the Samsung Pavilion at the Beijing Games on Friday. Credit: Rob Carr/Associated Press Photo

Gary Hall Jr. became a three-time Olympian after being diagnosed with Type I diabetes. He is an ambassador for Inspired by Diabetes, a global campaign that encourages people touched by diabetes to share their stories with others around the world. The program is a collaboration between Eli Lilly & Co. and the International Diabetes Federation’s Unite for Diabetes initiative. In the U.S., the American Diabetes Assn. is the program’s national advocate. For more information, visit inspiredbydiabetes.com.

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Comments (122)

It's not a matter of why 14 year old's can't compete, it's the fact that the rules say 16 so if you aren't 16 and competing then you are cheating. Simple as that.

Minimum age requirements are enforced because younger competitors are more flexible. The rules were apparently put into place in 1997 by the International Gymnastics Federation to avoid the exploitation of younger gymnasts, who are more supple and therefore better equipped to perform some of the routines.

Good point.

Athletes cheat for a reason. In gymnastics there is an advantage to being small and flexible. The gee-thats-OK argument is similar to the "gee thats not a performance enhancing drug" argument when snowboarders were booted for smoking weed. Being relaxed can help you win too.

Do you really want generations of 6 year olds going through Olympic training, with Gold at 14 or nothing? Let kids be kids and enforce the 16 year limit.

Thank you! Finally someone who feels the same way I feel. I was getting so sick of all the blogs and "objective articles" where the authors just continually tries to make it sound like the Chinese gymnasts, even if they're underage, committed such a horrible sin.

Losing to a 14 year old in the Olympics wouldn't be as embarrasing as not even going to the Olympics.

"I remember being 14. There is no advantage in the world to being 14.....I guess I don’t know very much about gymnastics." No further comments need to be made.

Gary Hall Jr., you obviously don't have any kind of understanding of the sport gymnastics. smaller bodies have a complete advantage over bigger ones and when you don't have a mutterer body you can balance better and also you don't have these things called breast that make it much harder to balance. So in the sport of gymnastics being younger is a complete advantage and the rules are also there to protect these kids from getting hurt. Lastly if there was no age restriction then other countries would have sent younger athletes that might have been better but didn't because they don't cheat.

You're kidding, right? The question is not whether it is cheating, but rather whether it should be legal. I agree that the age limit should be removed, but that doesn't make it ok to cheat. Forged documents are a serious crime. If the allegations are true, the penalty must be so severe that no one ever does it again.

Gary Hall Jr., you are an idiot, and no you don't know very much about gymnastics. The age limit of 16 was put in place to help protect the mental and physical well-being of young athletes. Training too hard at a young age can damage their bones and affect growth. Also, at younger ages, gymnasts can develop a better strength-weight ratio, making it easier for them to perform difficult moves.

I can hardly even believe this ridiculously misinformed article was actually published.


Nominally I would agree with you but you miss some points:

Being 14 is no disadvantage in female gymnastics, instead the younger you are (within reason) the easier it is to win.

Gymnastics is one of the most gruelling to train for, its not so much a case of building stamina or strength through hard work and dedication, its about controlling the body in ways that are physically possible, but actually unnatural. To obtain the subtlety of movement of a gymnast at Olympic level involves exceptionally painful regime of stretching and positioning under very strict coaching.

Countries like the Soviet Union used to dominate gymnastics with participants as young as 10 or 12 gaining medals. This looks good on the podium, but is in a very real way a form of child abuse.

The age limits were brought in on moral grounds, and with good reason. Even a sixteen year old competitor would have to start extensive training for their sport some years previously, but at least they have a fairer start now, and understand more of what they are subjecting themselves to.

However once an age limit is set to compete below that is cheating, I would not want to see a medal stripped from a 14 year old who won her event in good faith, but if she 'cheated' she 'cheated'. He Kexin is not to blame, the Chinese Olympic doctrine is to blame. Hopefully for her 18 is not too old to win an honest gold medal in London 2012.

There is a very unfair advantage to being a 14 year old gymnastics verses a 16 year old.

First off the body is more feeble as bones are still not at full maturity. This allows the younger gymnast the ability to perform the more challenging stunts easier.

Then you have the height and weight is less for a 14 year old. It is certainly easier for a 85 lb, 4 ft tall girl to whip her body around then it is for a 105 lb, 5 ft tall girl.

It has also been said that the lack of experience tends to lead to less fear for the 14 year old competitors. I can see that. The less competitions you have been to means less chances of failure, injury and things like that.

Several years ago - before the age was increased - a 14 year old received straight 10s performing some of these more challenging routines.

There is a clear advantage and that is why the age limit was put into place.

Regardless of who wins - the games have to be fair to EVERYONE that competes and that means all competitors should follow the rules.

Of course most of us have no advantage at 14, but when you've been training since three, the muscular development is there, and the muscle memory is ingrained, and the advantage of being younger is being smaller. And smaller equals a center of gravity closer to the actual center of the body which allows for quicker rotations. I don't know if you watched much of the gymnastics competition, but there was a little bit of flipping involved. And yes, if a fourteen year old beat someone older it would be embarrasing, if they were playing Olympic arm wrestling.

Regardless rules are rules and should be followed by EVERY competitor. But i agree that if she was thought to be the best then maybe there should be some consideration to changing the rules. But watching some of the scoring of the events made me wonder how accurate it was... yah they are good, but the whole tie going to the little girl and not nastia thing was weird. Also there were other instances where the scoring was really off. For example, the American gymnast had to beat a 16.2 to beat the chinese gymnast for gold, and just to be snide i said "watch he'll get a 16.175 or something stupid like that..", yah interestingly enough thats what he got. All you got were boos from the audience. And several commentators have said on SEVERAL occasions "wow i wouldnt have given anything near that score." or " wow that was a little off." it was odd.

I couldn't help but note that after reading through this article, I came across this statement:

"Post a comment
If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate.
Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form."

I don't understand why someone who is under 13 may not be able to participate after reading through why a 14 year old wouldn't be able to participate in the gymnastics.

Ah Mr. Hall, no being beaten by a 14 year old in gymnastics would not be embarrassing. In swimming sure but in artistic gymnastics the opposite is actually true. The 14 year old has a distinct advantage over an 18 year old. Physically it would be the equivalent to you as a 21 year old competing in a junior's competition.

In gymnastics, size is everything - the smaller you are the better. A 14 year old is also much more flexible than an 18 year old to say nothing of the size and weight difference. Nor has an 14 year old had to go through all the body changes of an older gymnast - that usually begins when a gymnast turns 15.

They've yet to have to relearn everything due to their increased size which of course changes your center of gravity and how much weight your having to move in things such as the balance beam.

In most cases what you think of being 14 is accurate but in the area of artistic gymnastics you must throw the old assumptions out of the window. The younger you are, in this case, the bigger the advantage.

It’s called deception. That’s the rules to compete and the falsified a document to get someone in there to compete. Maybe there was a 14 year old in the USA or Germany or some other country that was the best in her country and could have beet everyone else, but those countries followed the simple, clear Olympic rules and didn’t give them the opportunity to compete.

Bottom line, they broke the rules knowingly, tried to deceive the entire world, they need to have the gold striped from them and some type of punishment.

The point is moot. There are rules, regardless of your opinion, that are already in place. If the rules are broken, there should be consequences. We should wait to debate the finer points of allowing children athletes to compete until movement has been made in regards to the violation of the rules.

Being under 14 may not be an advantage in some things but in gymnastics it is. Younger gymnasts are smaller and more flexible. Nastia Luikin for the US is only 20 years old and is considered "old" for her sport.

The issue isn't so much "age" or "maturity." It has to do with body development and health. Little kids were being put through such arduous weight-training and physical demands at such a young age that they were suffering lifelong injuries and growth issues. The age limit is a an attempt to prevent this from happening to an extent.

Why should children be allowed to compete in the Olympics when they can't even post their thoughts on the topic?:

"If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate.
Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form. "

Perhaps the rule is unfair. However, failing to enforce the rule as it exists would be unfair to all those gymnists who did not compete because they were not eligible under the present rule. While He may have been the best of those competing, she may not have been the best if other 14 year olds had competed.

In addition, there is the issue of whether placing the pressures of Olympics competition on a child so young is fair to the child.

When the average weight of the Chinese team is around 71 lbs. and the US is around 106 lbs., this does give the younger gymnasts an advantage.

The advantage of being younger than 16 in gymnastics is that you weight less and are more flexible and can perform more difficult routines because of this.

The age limit was imposed to avoid the physical and mental strain of training and competing on children under 16. The life span of the average gymnast can be quite short as physical injuries, small and large, accumulate over time and take their toll. For instance, Luiken was considered to 'old and beat up' at 18 to medal. This rule is meant to protect younger gymnasts.



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