Sunday, July 27, 2008

So Little, So Young

Gymnastics is one of the few sports where being younger, smaller, and lighter weight is an advantage. I was somewhat appalled to read an article in the NYT that suggests that two of the girls on the Chinese Olympic women’s gymnastic team may be as much as two years younger than they claim to be.

Since 1997 the minimum age for Olympic eligibility in gymnastics has been 16. Both He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan have passports that put their age at 16, whereas independent records show each of them to be only 14.

How much difference does two years actually make? Nellie Kim, a five-time Olympic gold medalist for the former Soviet Union, says they are lighter and often more fearless when they perform difficult maneuvers, making it easier to do tricks. She added that psychologically they worry less.

My friend, whose daughter competed in gymnastics at the national level, observed that the lower level of female hormones in the younger girls makes a huge difference, giving their bodies a different shape and center of gravity.

I was surprised at the official reaction to these allegations by an official of USA Gymnastics, who basically said, “If they have valid passports, bring ’em on.”

Then I thought about this issue from the standpoint of a legitimate entrant who had perhaps trained most of her life to compete. It would be infuriating to perhaps be defeated by someone who had been entered with falsified information.

And what about the two girls in question, who would obviously have an excellent chance at competing in four years when they are 18 years old. What sort of life lesson is this for them? It would seem a huge burden to bear the suspicion and accusations that will surround their participation in the Olympics.

The sad truth is that as long as their have been athletic competitions, people have been finding ways to enhance their performance through illegal substances and rule violations. Wouldn’t it be nice to start something as time-honored as the Olympics on a completely even playing field?


Blogger Kristin said...

Wasn't Nadia Comaneci 14 when she competed in Montreal? Why did the Olympic committee set 16 as the age in '97?

10:45 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Google produced some interesting reading on this subject. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about the Age Falsification in Gymnastics.

11:16 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

I say, if they are old enough to work in a factory and produce lead-laden toys for Americans to buy in Wal-Mart, they are old enough to compete in the Olympics.

4:01 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MC -- Those underage Chinese factory workers will sadly probably never need a passport. In both cases, young girls seem to be pawns of the State, which can boast of a growing GNP and Olympic hopefuls.

10:17 AM  
Blogger steve said...

I bet even the original Greeks had problems....I mean ....what about ol Hercules? How can you let a guy like Hercules enter the games? He may not be on Steroids, but he has ol Zeus giving him the strength of ten ordinary men!
When i was a kid i used to gobble up those Biographies...everything from Sam Hpouston to Madam Curie....One that really got me was Jim Thorpe, possibly the greatest thlete (outside of hercules) that ever lived and how they stripped him of his madals because he had earned $2 playing Baseball one year. I cried.
I cried agin when they gave 'em back to Thorpe in 1983...too bad he was dead for 30 years.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve #1 -- I think it must be human nature to want to win at any cost. I'm sure Jim Thorpe was smiling down from heaven when his fame was restored. You and my husband could trade some great baseball stories.

10:41 AM  
Blogger steve said...

But Barbara, should they let Hercules compete in the Olympics?
How about Batman?

Maybe they should have like an "all cheaters olympics"...underage, steroids, amphetamines, anything goes!
thats probably the only way to get a level playing field.

My, I feel really cynical now.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve #1 -- I'm not even sure the age rule for gymnastics is a good rule, but for now at least it's still a rule and it would appear China is cheating. Nobody ever ruled out Hercules or Batman...

2:33 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I don't know the backstory here...but maybe the USA Gymnastics official had that reaction because he felt it was his only viable option. If they have valid passports, and that's the standard, it would be unseemly (at best) to accuse the host country of fraud and ask for additional proof -- especially if that's never been the practice before.

1:13 PM  

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