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Four months after the Valieva affair that affected the Beijing Olympics, the International Skating Federation (ISU) is considering a proposal starting Monday to raise the minimum age to compete for seniors from 15 to 17 years old.
The debate about the very young age of figure skaters, and especially female figure skaters, is not new and resurfaces regularly. It was reopened last February in Beijing, in the midst of the Olympic Games, when Kamila Valieva, a huge favorite for the Olympic title at just 15 years old, collapsed under the pressure.
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The Russian teenager, queen of the quadruple jumps and so far undefeated in senior competitions, had cracked after finding herself at the center of a noisy doping affair. She had finished her performance with her head in her hands, wracked with sobs before collapsing at the foot of the podium.
Meeting in congress in Phuket (Thailand) from Monday to Friday, the members of the ISU will have to pronounce on a proposal, which if accepted by more than two thirds of the voters, plans to raise the minimum age to 16 years for 2023-2024 season, then at 17 from 2024-2025. Objective: to avoid the physical and mental breakdown of skaters whose high-level sports career is usually very short.
“Duty to Protect”
“The ISU has a duty to protect the physical and psychological health and safety of all athletes.“, Thus affirms the Medical Commission of the instance. The body also believes thatcharges and risks“related to the high level are”inadequatefor very young skaters.
Figure skating is undoubtedly a demanding sport, where young women string together hours of repetitive training, jumps and pirouettes, at an age when their bodies are still developing.
To be successful in triple or even quadruple jumps, a slender figure is also a definite advantage and after puberty, when the size increases, the jumps become more difficult to master. The skaters then find themselves on the sidelines, replaced by even younger ones.
Yulia Lipnitskaya, for example, was just 15 years old when she won gold at the 2014 Sochi Games in the team event. She was predicted to have a brilliant career, but three years later she had already retired suffering from anorexia.
With an increase in their minimum age to compete, which should allow them to mature before reaching the high level, the skaters would thus be better prepared to withstand the training loads and the “Greater psychological pressures of senior competition.“, Estimates the Medical Commission.
With this measure, the Federation also hopes to encourage skaters to have longer careers. A few days after the Valieva affair, Frenchman Guillaume Cizeron, Olympic ice dance champion in Beijing, pointed out the problem: “You see a lot of kids, they’re almost kids at that age, carried to the top of the podium and thrown right after. They have very short runs. I don’t know to what extent it affects his life afterwards (but) I can’t imagine it being an extremely positive thing.»
“Perhaps it will allow them to have more longevity, and therefore have more time to gain maturity. It should probably make the competition more interesting, because we want to see mature skating. there are children jumping“, he analyzed.
This is not the first time that a measure to increase the age of skaters has been put to a vote by the ISU. In 2018, an equivalent proposal was rejected, notably opposed by the Russians.
During the Beijing Games, in any case, the opinion of the participants seemed almost unanimous. “When you look at the time of Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen, they are people that we were able to root for for a number of years, which was great representation for our sport.“, Estimated the American Mariah Bell, one of the oldest in the competition at 25 years old. “It would be great to have more athletes like these, and an age limit would help with that.»
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