Doctors and skaters weigh in on raising age limit for competition

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The change will mean longer wait times for Olympic hopefuls and perhaps a change in the skills that will be performed on the ice.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Last February, the Beijing Olympics brought figure skating back to the world stage.

The competition first made headlines as 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva became the first woman to land a quad jump during Olympic competition, then later for the doping scandal and emotional breakdown on the ice that followed.

These events sparked a renewed conversation around the world and within the figure skating community, calling for the age limit for elite competition to be raised from 15 years old. And earlier this month, the International Skating Union voted overwhelmingly to raise the minimum age to 17.

The change will mean longer wait times for Olympic hopefuls and perhaps a change in the skills that can be performed on the ice. But many in the skating community applaud the decision, saying the change took decades.

Even on a hot summer day, Daisy Dorsett loves hitting the ice from the rink in Columbus, Indiana.

“It’s cold, and it makes me feel good every time you skate,” said Dorsett, who lives in North Vernon.

At 13, Dorsett has only been skating for a year, but her rapid learning is already showing on the ice.

“I was first in the first meet,” Dorsett said.

And with two more competitions next month, she hopes her skills will put her at the top too. Dorsett hopes that after a few more years of training, she will be ready for the Olympics.

“One day, I hope,” Dorsett said.

“I believe her. She wants it, she wants to do it. And I’m here to help her,” said former figure skater and longtime figure skating coach Emma Baxter.

Baxter, Daisy’s coach, is no stranger to the rink herself.

“My mom is a coach and since she worked here, whenever I could walk, she would put skates on my feet and make me skate while she worked,” Baxter said.

Last week the The International Skating Union has voted increase the minimum age for senior figure skating competitions from 15 to 17 years old.

In the more than three decades around the sport now, Baxter said the move will bring big changes for skaters.

“You know, at 17, when you mature and grow, the physics behind your body and the dynamics, if you’re just a tiny little thing in skating and your hips haven’t spread out, you can spin more fast, you can spin faster, you can jump higher if you have that ability,” Baxter said.

“I think it was really wise of the international skating union to say 17 is where we need to be,” said Angela Smith, former president of the American College of Sports Medicine and former doctor for the US World Figure Skating Team.

Smith said this is a significant change for sport and for women’s health. The need for change, Smith said, was brought to the fore again in Beijing, when Kamila Valieva’s doping scandal and emotional breakdown were brought to the world stage.

“It’s the right thing to do for women’s mental health, it’s the right thing to do for women’s physical health. In my opinion, it’s the right thing for the sport,” Smith said.

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The physical health side of the decision is huge, Smith pointed out. In order to stay lean and retain the ability to land certain jumps, Smith said there have been reports for decades of eating disorders, with skaters starving themselves to delay puberty until their Olympic chances are over. past.

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“They eat protein powder. We’ve heard skaters say they never eat solid food. We’ve heard skaters talk about extreme routines, like training 12 hours a day,” Smith said.

Staying lean as a figure skater, Smith said, is something many athletes consider important in order to consistently land their best tricks.

“Young women, they’re gaining hips, they’re gaining breasts and so they don’t have that very tight, tight, lean, skinny, frankly, pre-pub girl body that’s allowed athletes these days to quad biking jumps even when it comes to women,” Smith said.

The recommendation to raise the age is not new. Smith said it was first hinted at in the 1990s. And while it’s been a long road for young skaters to get there, she said, it’s important that the ISU puts implement the change.

“It took 30 years for that to happen. And thank goodness it goes up to 17, not just 16, because clearly 16 isn’t high enough,” Smith said.

But what that will mean for young skaters vying to reach that elite level in years to come is still unclear.

“Will they be doing quads next year? I do not know. I don’t know if other methods will be found to avoid puberty beyond the age of 17. It’s scary to imagine, maybe it’s possible,” Smith said. “I don’t know.

“I wonder how it’s going to pan out, but it could be good,” Baxter said. “But if you’re ready at 15, you could be incredibly amazing at your 17th year, who knows, but I think that might be a little fairer.”

Taking to the rink herself, Dorsett said she sees both sides, believing the ISU decision could end up being both good and bad for the future of figure skating. But, she says, that won’t change her dream of getting to that Olympic ice later on.

“I’m 17 in four years anyway,” Dorsett said.

The new age limit of 17 will be in place for the Winter Olympics from Milan to Cortina in 2026.

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