So,...I take the sport seriously. When I see articles like this, I get annoyed. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports reporter, writes about the "Sour Grapes" reaction of Bela and Marta Karolyi. He even calls Marta "Martha", which irritates me in ways it shouldn't. Anyway, Mr. Wetzel thinks it was wrong for the Karolyi's to protest the inclusion of three Chinese gymnasts who are very likely underage. In some sports, I would agree. Age shouldn't matter. But, it does in gymnastics.
Wetzel says, "The Chinese had figured out how to upset their gymnastics dynasty, churning out these little athletic machines, perhaps so young they couldn’t even sense the pressure of the moment."
Actually, the Chinese were coming into these games with no talent. They've been struggling to pull together a good team for a few years now. Whereas, the Karolyi's have created champions since the 70's. However, the Chinese girls in question are unknowns. One is experiencing her first international competition and it just happens to be the Olympic games. That just doesn't happen. Show me any sport wherein the athlete has their first competition in the Olympics. It's not about the pressure, it's the knowledge that these girls came from nowhere.
"What kills the Karolyis isn’t that the Chinese would risk the health of their
children by throwing them out here before their bones and muscles mature. It’s
that the Americans won’t allow the Karolyis to do it, too."
Absolutely! The Karolyis have done it before, as this writer points out with Nadia. But, that was before a rule change. That was before the INTERNATIONAL gymnastics community decided that maybe it wasn't such a great idea for thirteen and fourteen year olds to permanantly damage their bodies with intense training for a year in the limelight. The rule didn't evolve from arbitrary observations. When you put a young girl (ESPECIALLY between 12-14) in elite, Olympic training schedules, they usually end up in injured...or dead. I can give this guy a list of gymnasts who illustrate this quite well. Training at Olympic caliber in this age range causes the body to loose calcium uptake in ways that dog the girls for the rest of their lives. However, if you hold off on that training for a year or two, the girl's body doesn't seem to have the same problem. Raising the age of Olympic gymnasts lowered the number of girls who were irreparably damaged. Contrary to what Wetzel claims, the Karolyis helped drum up support for the age restriction.
Here's the thing...if I were a non-Chinese gymnast, then I'd be pissed, too! Contrary to Mr. Wetzel's assertions, there is no proof that at least one of the gymnasts is 14. Nine months ago, she was registered in a competition sanctioned by China's national gymnastics body as a thirteen year old. Furthermore, newspapers recorded the same thing. There was no correction from the papers or the government. So...what is more believable: a country like China falsifying some documents (like a GOVERNMENT ISSUE passport) or at least ten sources getting it wrong? Remember, the Chinese team was painfully thin on talent. What do you do when your eligible girls aren't looking so hot and you have a system wherein you're grooming kids beginning at three? You go to the next in line. And, what do you know? There are these three girls who are amazing. They're also relatively unknown which makes the scam easier. I'm not trying to say that they're not gold medal caliber. They're fantastic. But, what the hell is the point of having rules if one country gets to flaunt them?
Here's the hard truth - lighter and shorter people fly higher and rotate faster. It's basic physics. It is a definite advantage to be small. That's why you don't see six foot tall female gymnasts. Perhaps more advantageous is the fact that a thirteen year old will be easier to con into lying because she has been told her family will be negatively impacted if she doesn't go along with the sham. Wetzel needs to bone up on his Chinese gymnastics "legacy". Part of that legacy includes taking kids from their parents at three and putting them in a gymnasium, sometimes, a thousand miles away. The parents get an annual bonus and the kid gets high end medical care and a steady diet. That's huge in China. So, yeah... do you not understand that that's leverage with younger children? The younger the child, the easier the effort to convince her that not playing along will hurt her family. Still think this is sour grapes, Mr. Wetzel?
I'm not surprised that the American gymnasts were gracious and good sports. They recognize good gymnastics when they see it and they knew they didn't do the best they could've done. It's not their job, though, to worry about how the rules apply to everyone else. THAT is the coaches job! What part of that do you not understand?
The Karolyis have been training champions since before you were born. They've molded hundreds, if not thousands, of little girls into gymnasts. But, you know, as a reporter, you must be more qualified to judge the age of small Chinese girls. Right. And, just for the record, the American team isn't the only contingent to bring this up. Though less publicized than the Karolyis, almost every delegation has caught on to the potential scam. It doesn't take a genius to know that we're going to hear it from American judges when you're in America and the coaches are gymnastics royalty. They're not perfect, but they know what they're talking about.