PRO/CON: Olympic Age Cap

Should the Olympics have a minimum age requirement?

March 15, 2022

PRO: Too much pressure

Crowds cheer while the young Olympian is awarded their first gold, cracking a broad smile. However, behind the triumphant grin of this promising talent, there is a child inexperienced in life outside the stadium.

When surrounded by coaching staff with ‘win at all costs’ mindsets, young Olympians are especially susceptible to being pushed past their limits—both physically and mentally. Though not a complete solution, implementing a minimum age requirement for the Olympics would be tremendously beneficial to the mental health of athletes. 

Competing in events as prestigious as the Olympics is inevitably a cause of stress. However, the pressure young athletes feel is much greater than their older peers’, who have had more time to adjust to the demands of such a lifestyle. Such is the case of Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who, before her alleged involvement in a doping scandal, was highly ranked in multiple international competitions. Although she was a favorite to win, immense pressure and expectation from both her coach and the world, led the 15-year-old to underperform, stepping off the rink in tears.

With a minimum age requirement, Olympians would compete with a more mature and well-developed mentality, potentially deterring them from taking unnecessary risks. Because there was no age requirement in place, Valieva must now live with the effects of the doping scandal for the rest of her career. 

But vulnerability to abuse and exploitation isn’t the only shocking aspect in the realm of young Olympians. Many young athletes, especially in gymnastics and figure skating—sports that favor the agility and slimness of prepubescent bodies—are more susceptible to developing life-altering injuries.Those in sports medicine have noted that the immature skeleton of child athletes is more prone to critical injuries, possibly impacting the rest of their adult lives. Despite this harsh reality, skills like the near-impossible quad, which strain athletes’ growing bones, have only become an expectation for younger figure skaters.

Not only that, but years of practice is squeezed into mere months if young athletes want even a shot at qualifying for the Olympics. Evidenced by countless teenage figure skaters, high intensity training and stressful competitions are sure to take a toll, leaving them drained and even more likely to sustain career-ending injuries.

Some argue that an age cap would be detrimental for the careers of athletes who are in their prime, though the opposite is actually true. Once these athletes hit puberty, their once-thriving careers are cut short and, in turn, they are replaced by younger, more agile skaters. 

A minimum age requirement would leave a pool of older athletes, who would compete without the advantages of an undeveloped body. This would actually lengthen the careers of these athletes, who could compete beyond just their teenage years. And with the slim, teenage body no longer the gold standard, other issues like eating disorders would become less commonplace, creating a healthier atmosphere for those competing in these sports.

Spectators aren’t the only ones calling for an age cap. Olympic figure skater Karen Chen supported the requirement, recalling how she would often mindlessly follow her coaches’ every word when it came to regulating her diet and training—something she wouldn’t do now, as she is more aware of her own limitations. 

Even younger athletes like 16-year-old American figure skater Alysa Liu have said they wouldn’t mind waiting until 18 to compete, as it would mean a few extra years of training. 

As young Olympians are crying out for help, we need to ask ourselves if it is really worth prioritizing gold over the well-being of the person wearing it. It’s time to stop choking our young Olympians with the weight of medals around their neck and start giving them some room to breathe. 

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CON: Counterintuitive to success

With rising concerns about the mental and physical capabilities of young Olympians, both retired athletes and onlookers have called for a minimum age requirement to compete in the games. However, considering the sheer amount of time and effort these young athletes put into their training, adding a minimum age requirement to the Olympics would only prove counterintuitive to both the athlete and their respective country’s success in the games. 

The main reason why athletes start competing in the Olympics at such a young age is to showcase their athleticism while their bodies are in apt condition to handle the strenuous training that comes with international representation. 

Additionally, training at a young age gives athletes the largest window of time to perfect and showcase their sport, especially while they are in peak shape considering the agility and flexibility of young bodies. Even if these younger athletes were to suffer injuries, their bodies would recover faster than older athletes, adding to their competitive longevity. This, in turn, gives younger athletes an extended athletic career and more opportunities to compete in the Olympics. 

For example, swim legend Michael Phelps began his Olympic career at 15 years-old and though he returned home from Sydney empty handed in 2000, he won six gold medals four years later in Athens, sparking what would become the greatest Olympic career in history. Additionally, rising stars such as Chloe Kim, who won Olympic gold at 17 years-old and Nathan Chen, who made his Olympic debut at age 18, further prove that age should not be a defining factor to compete in the Olympics.

Moreover, considering most countries participate in hopes of winning the most medals and earning international recognition for their athletes, all talent should be represented, no matter their age. Especially for smaller countries with less opportunities to boost representation, adding a minimum age requirement would only harm their potential for recognition.

Although supporters of an Olympic age requirement may say that younger athletes have a weaker mentality and are more susceptible to developmental harm, age requirements would do very little to aid this cause, since they already compete in similar atmospheres such as world championships. Instead of having an age requirement, the Olympic committee should be more understanding of their potential vulnerability to such issues. 

As concerning as it may sound to have younger talent representing a country in the Olympics, these world class athletes deserve all the recognition they trained day and night to receive.

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