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.