MUNICH (AP) – An individual medal seemed just a matter of form when 15-year-old snowboarder Camila Valleoa traveled to the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
But after days of uproar over a positive doping test, the teen couldn’t stand the massive public pressure: Valeeva fought back tears in her freestyle, made a mistake and lost a medal. The disturbing collapse of the young ice princess has sparked calls for a minimum age for first-class sports. The International Skating Union (ISU) now wants to vote to raise the age limit to 17. In other sports too, kids belong to the world elite. Experts warn.
Skateboarding: Minimum age ‘not necessary’
The organizer of the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), leaves the decision to introduce a minimum age for sports federations. Gymnasts must be at least 16 years old, and there is no minimum age for skaters. In response to the Olympics scandal, the International Olympic Committee has urged world federations to review the general minimum age in sports.
In many sports, increasing age will have dire consequences. “A lot of girls are going to lose medals here,” said 14-year-old skater Lili Stuevasos. Last year, Berliner was the youngest German to compete in the Tokyo Summer Games. At that time, all women’s medals were awarded to teenagers – in street discipline, gold and silver medals went to two 13-year-olds.
“I don’t think a minimum age is necessary for us,” said Stuevasius. Although she feels that the age limit debate makes sense, a distinction must be made between the different types of sports. Skateboarding is relatively less regulated and is practiced with less stress. “There is no stark competitive atmosphere. We have fun and support each other. There was no pressure on me,” said Stovasius.
The German Federation for Roller and Inline Sports (DRIV) provides her with a “Sports Psychology Kit” so she can meet all the requirements. In addition, Stoephasius receives media training. Sebastian Barabas, DRIV’s competitive ski sports advisor, said the teen’s participation in a top-tier sport is justified.
Warning about young high-performance machines
However, scholars like Heinz Reinders warn that kids on the big stage become high-performance machines. The educator researches the topic of talent development and heads the Youth Development Center for Young Women Football Players at the University of Würzburg. “From an educational point of view, competitive sports in public are always highly questionable before the age of 14,” Reynders said. After all, many developmental tasks are not mastered productively, and in addition to a normal adaptation to life, there are additional stress factors.
However, participating in top-tier sporting events for kids doesn’t have to be “mental hell,” Reynders explained. Participation can certainly have “positively meaningful” elements for young talent. This always applies when you convey the entire environment to the adolescent: “Competitive sport is positive recognition.” The educator said it becomes a problem when parents and association officials do not focus on the well-being of the aspiring youth.
Figure skating association can set a signal
The decision of the World Figure Skating Association, which wants to vote on a gradual increase in the minimum age to 17 at its annual conference in Phuket starting on Sunday, may have a positive impact on other associations. As set out in a draft Congressional agenda, the ISU Council’s proposal is to “protect the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of runners.”
In addition to the International Olympic Committee, the German Ski Federation (DEU) also supports this initiative. “This will achieve our goal of preparing our athletes for the highest challenges with greater foresight and a long-term perspective,” said Claudia Pfeiffer, Munich-based sporting director of the federation.
The educational scientist Renders appeals primarily to the media, families and associations. “What does the participation of a child bring us? And what is the benefit of that for the child?” Reynders said.