Four months after the Valieva affair which splashed the Beijing Olympics, the International Skating Federation (ISU) is considering from Monday on a proposal to raise the minimum age to compete for seniors from 15 to 17 years old. .
The debate on the very young age of skaters – and especially female skaters – is not new and resurfaces regularly. It was reopened last February in Beijing, in the middle of the Olympics, when Kamila Valieva, a big favorite for the Olympic title at only 15 years old, collapsed under the pressure.
The Russian teenager, queen of the quadruple jumps and undefeated so far in senior competitions, had cracked after finding herself at the center of a resounding doping affair. She had finished her performance with her head in her hands, shaken by sobs before failing at the foot of the podium.
Meeting in congress in Phuket (Thailand) from Monday to Friday, the members of the ISU must decide on a proposal, which if accepted by more than two thirds of the voters, plans to raise the minimum age to 16 years for the 2023-2024 season, then at 17 from 2024-2025. Objective: to avoid the physical and mental breakage of skaters whose high-level sports career is often 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”inappropriatefor very young skaters.
Figure skating is indeed a demanding sport, where young girls chain hours of repetitive training, jumps and pirouettes, at an age when their bodies are still developing.
To succeed in triple or even quadruple jumps, a slender silhouette is also a definite advantage and after puberty, when the size thickens, jumps become more difficult to master. The skaters then find themselves on the sidelines, replaced by even younger ones.
Yulia Lipnitskaya, for example, was only 15 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 gain in maturity before reaching the high level, the skaters would thus be better prepared to endure the training loads and the “heightened psychological pressures of senior competition“, Estimates the Medical Commission.
With this measure, the Federation also hopes to encourage skaters to lead longer careers. A few days after the Valieva affair, the Frenchman Guillaume Cizeron, crowned Olympic champion in ice dancing in Beijing, pointed out the problem: “You see a lot of kids, they’re almost children at that age, brought to the top of the podium, then thrown right after. They have very short careers. I don’t know to what extent it impacts their life afterwards (but) I can’t imagine it being anything extremely positive.»
“It will perhaps allow them to have more longevity, and therefore to have more time to gain in 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 raise the age of skaters has been submitted to the vote of the ISU. In 2018, an equivalent proposal was rejected, notably encountering opposition from 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 could encourage for several years, which was a 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 this, and an age limit would help with that.»
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