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Thread: Should the rules on age be tightened up?

  1. #1
    EZETTIE LATUASV IVAKMHA CaroLiza_fan's Avatar
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    Should the rules on age be tightened up?

    Should the ISU and the National Associations tighten up the rules on ages?

    I have been watching figure skating for nearly 10 years now. For most of that time I have been mainly restricted to watching what Eurosport was showing – i.e. the European Championships, the World Championships and the Grand Prix Series.

    Until a few weeks ago, I had never watched a national championship before. So, I was expecting them to be run to the same sort of rules as the likes of the Europeans or the Worlds. But, what I saw at the recent Russian Nationals was not what I was expecting.

    One thing I always liked about the Grand Prix Series is that it gave us a chance to get a preview of some of the young up-and-coming skaters that were currently too young to compete in the main championships. For example, this year there was Julia Lipnitskaya; last year there was Adelina Sotnikova and Liza Tuktamysheva (and Jason Brown in a gala); the year before there was Yuzuru Hanyu.

    But, after watching the 2012/13 Russian Nationals, I have changed my mind completely. Now, I feel the ISU and the National Associations need to tighten up the rules for the ages skaters are allowed to compete in competitions.

    Watching the Russian Nationals was the first time that I felt distinctly uncomfortable while watching figure skating. There were too many youngsters who looked like they should be at Primary School!

    I should warn you, this discussion will mainly be about the female skaters. The simple reason is that although there were male skaters who looked young, they did not look quite as young as their female counterparts.

    The first competition I watched was the Ladies, because I desperately wanted to know how Leonova, Sotnikova and Tuktamysheva got on.

    Now, at the stage I started watching (the morning after the SP), only one person had started uploading routines from the SP to YouTube. But they had only uploaded about half of them (it was most of the top 10 finishers, but with a couple missing). But, I watched the performances they had, as I wanted to try to catch up before the gala.

    When Elena Radionova came out, my mouth dropped. I had heard a lot about Elena, and so knew that she was a brilliant skater, and a real prospect for the future. But, I had never actually seen her before, or even looked her up. So, I never realised that she was as young as 13. Or that she looked more like 10!

    After watching the videos they had, I went hunting for the remaining girls. And after watching the remaining girls, I soon discovered why the first uploader had not uploaded them. With the exception of Elena Radionova (presumably because of her doing so well), the first uploader had skipped all of the really young girls.

    I felt really uneasy watching so many very young girls, especially when they were wearing skimpy outfits. OK, so some of them had their legs and arms fully covered, but the outfits were still totally inappropriate for girls of that age.

    What made matters worse was that the youngest of the girls looked even younger than they were. Just like I have already pointed out about Elena Radionova. Of all the girls that were born in 1999 or 2000, there was only 1 that did actually look her age – all the rest looked a lot younger.

    But, it was in the Pairs competition that I felt the most uncomfortable.

    Now, ever since Zhang Hao retired, I have thought that it looks really strange seeing Zhang Dan and his new partner Peng Cheng together. Like, he is nearly double the size of her, and nearly double the age!

    During the Russian Nationals, we saw some more cases like this where the guy was a lot bigger and older than the girl. But, for me, there was one partnership that I thought looked very strange together. That of Anastasia Gubanova and Alexei Sintsov.

    From looking at him, Sintsov does look quite young, particularly around the face. Maybe 15 or 16 years old. But, Gubanova looks extremely young. To such an extent that she makes Sintsov look like a giant, which he isn’t! She looks about 8!!!

    Curiosity got the better of me, so I went searching to see if I could what ages they were. I couldn’t find out anything about Sintsov. But I found one article about Gubanova ( ). Now, this article was written in May 2012, and, unless there is another skater about with the same name (which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility), it said she was born in December 2002. Which would make her only 10!!!

    Now, I am not sure about the accuracy of that article (or whether it is even about the same girl – they look very different. But, you know how quickly girls can change their appearance!) But, Sintsov’s partner certainly looks extremely young. So, if she is only 10 (or younger), that begs the question: why on earth is a girl that is too young to do Junior competitions being allowed to compete in a Senior competition?!

    Which brings us to another point I wanted to make. Why are we having Junior skaters competing in what is supposed to be a Senior competition? Is it a case of trying to make up the numbers? I would believe that if we were talking about somewhere like Britain, where skating is a VERY minority sport.

    But this is Russia we are talking about. Russia (and the USSR) has long been a power-house of figure skating. For goodness sake, they are one of the most successful nations in skating history. And we are not just talking ancient history – they have been very successful in the recent past too. In the past few years, there seemed to be no shortage of good Russian skaters about. To the extent that we were predicting Russia to start dominating in all categories again.

    So, what has happened? Why are the Russian Nationals full of Junior skaters? Where are all the good Senior skaters?!

    As I said at the start, this was the first National Championship that I have ever watched. So, I am starting to wonder: are all Nationals like this?!

    At the time of the Grand Prix Finals, I intended watching the Junior final as well as the Senior. But, I never got round to it. Now that I have seen just how young Elena Radionova is, I am glad I didn’t. I was expecting most of the skaters in the Junior competitions to be towards the top of the age range. You know, kinda like the Youth Olympics – mainly 14 and 15 year olds.

    You know, I really enjoyed watching the Youth Olympics. Perhaps it was because I had already seen a lot of the top competitors before [in the GP Series for figure skating, and in the World Cup for ski jumping]. Perhaps it was because the competitors were at the older end of the Junior age scale. I don’t know.

    But, what I do know is that I did not enjoy watching children of 12 or 13 skating, even though a lot of them were very good!

    So, I would propose that the ISU and the National Associations should tighten up the rules so that:

    If you are aged between 12 and 15 you compete in Junior championships
    If you are aged 15 or over you compete in Senior championships

    Of course, that would take away the opportunity to see previews of the up-and-coming 14 year olds in the GP Series. But, that is a small sacrifice to make, as it will not be long until they are old enough to compete.

    Also, I do not like the way that the rules are at the minute that to compete in Senior championships you have to be 15 before the start of the July before the season starts.

    The case of Adelina Sotnikova demonstrates perfectly the problems with doing it like this. She was born on the 1st July 1996, the day after the cut off for the 2011/12 season. So, even though she was the Russian Ladies champion in both 2010/11 and 2011/12, she had to wait another year until the 2012/13 season before she could compete in the European and World Championships.

    For me, a much better way of doing it would be to have it so that you have to be 15 on or before the start of the individual competitions, rather than before the start of the season. This is how they do it in Motorcycle racing, and it has worked very well, as this example shows.

    In the Motorcycle Grand Prix paddock, the schedule is that you have Free Practice on the Friday, Qualifying on the Saturday and Racing on the Sunday. You don’t have to take part in the Free Practice Sessions, but it is always beneficial to have as much track time as you can. But, if you want to race, you MUST do qualifying.

    In 2002, the factory Derbi team signed a young up-and-coming rider from Majorca called Jorge Lorenzo to race in the 125GP World Championship. Unfortunately, Jorge had to sit out the first 2 meetings as, at only 14, he was below the age limit of 15. However, his 15th birthday was on the Saturday of the 3rd race meeting – the Spanish GP. So, although he had to sit out Free Practice as he was still underage, he was able to take part in qualifying, and hence the race. He finished the race in 22nd position, and by the end of the season finished 21st in the Championship – ahead of (amongst others) 5 future World Champions.

    As for Jorge’s career, although he never won the 125GP World Championship, he came 4th in 2004. He moved up to the 250GP class in 2005, finishing 5th in his debut year, and World Champion in 2006 and 2007. Jorge then moved into the top MotoGP class in 2008, finishing 4th in the championship in his debut year, 2nd in 2009, World Champion in 2010, 2nd in 2011, and World Champion in 2012!

    So, starting his international career mid-campaign hasn’t done Jorge Lorenzo’s career any harm!

    I cannot see why the same principle cannot be applied in figure skating. This is how it could be done:

    In normal competitions where there is no Preliminary Round, the skater should be 15 on or before the day they do their Short Programme.
    If, however, the skater does have to qualify for the SP, the skater should be 15 on or before the day they take part in the Preliminary Round.

    For Pairs and Ice Dance, it should be the younger member of the partnership that should be 15 on or before the first day they are taking part in the competition.

    If this sort of system had been adopted by the ISU and the National Associations already, then:

    Adelina (July 1996) would have been able to compete in all of the Senior competitions last season;
    Nikol (September 1996) would have been able to compete in all the Senior competitions from the Nebelhorn Trophy onwards;
    Liza (December 1996) would have been able to compete in all the Senior competitions from Russian Nationals onwards.

    It is interesting to note that this system I am proposing would not have made any difference to Julia Lipnitskaya (June 1998) – she would have to wait until the 2013/14 season to compete in Senior competitions.

    So, what do other members think of my ideas? Do you disagree with my ideas? Or, do you have other ideas that you think would be good that I have not thought of?


  2. #2
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    Isn't this a common practice? In the United States, seniors, juniors and novices compete (not against each other though) at Nationals: senior, junior and novice medals are awarded. Were all the skaters at Russia's nationals skating for the senior medals?

  3. #3
    Bona Fide Member sequinsgalore's Avatar
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    Your suggestion brings up other complications, as the skaters would be very dependant on the competition schedule. Usually pairs is before singles - in theory you could have twins w/ one competing in pairs and one in singles at Worlds, but because of their birthdates only the singles skater is allowed to compete. That doesn't seem fair. Also, competitions can be moved forward or delayed unexpectantly (e.g. Worlds 2011) which would make it hard for some skaters to plan their season.

    With regards to juniors at Nationals, ISU doesn't govern those comp, so it's up the national feds to decide. Russia at the moment just has so many talented young girls that they have pushed most of the seniors out (remember a few years back after Slutskaya, the Russian ladies were quite abysmal).

    Russia (and Japan) hold senior and junior Nationals at seperate times, so the really talented youngsters are allowed to compete at both. I think it is okay, because it makes the field so much deeper and therefor exciting.

  4. #4
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    I'm not sure exactly what makes you uncomfortable. Is it the skimpy outfits and whether those are age appropriate? If so, I'm 100% with you; it also troubles me seeking a 13 year old with heavy make-up and a skimpy outfit. However, restricting the age of senior competitions seems to not address that particular issue. I don't like that someone who is among the best in the world is not able to compete against the best in the world solely for being too young, like Mao in 2006.

  5. #5
    On the Ice Mathman's Avatar
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    Here are Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakhrai winning the bronze medal at 1977 Europeans. (Thanks to Floskate for the upload.)

    The announcer says she's 14, but actually she was 12, and he was 18. She was 138 cm (4 foot 6) and 30 kilos (66 piunds); he was 173 cm (5 foot 6 -- well, at least he wasn't six feet tall. ) This team invented the quadruple twist.

    Both Sonia Henie (1920) and Cellia Colledge (1932) competed at the Olympics at age eleven.

    It's funny how times change. Nowadays we are appalled at tarting up little girls in inappropriate clothing. Back in Sonia Henie's day she had an advantage because she (being a little girl) could skate in short skirts showing her legs, which would have been scandalous for the older ladies.

    I agree with CaroLiza Fan. Why can't the juniors skate in athletic attire. For that matter, why can't seniors? The first rule about clothing in the ISU rule book says, skaters must perform in costumes appropriate to an athletic contest. This rule is violated by ever skater, man, woman, and pair, on the ice.

  6. #6
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    I think kids competing as seniors is less common in countries where there's a huge pool of older skaters. The young ones just don't make it through the crowd at the top.

    In general, I worry about all the very young skaters (even more so the gymnasts) competing at senior levels. I worry on two grounds: physical damage and inappropriate costumes and music. In terms of the physical demands, junior skaters do fewer jumps and skate shorter programs. The relentless pounding of triple-triples, and the extra hours of training have effects on the body that are by now well documented. As for presentation, including costumes and music, was it Liza or Julia whose ensemble last year was just a bunch of green Band-aids? It wasnt even flattering. 't least Tara Lipinski dressed like a youngster and skated to music that didn't pretend to project overly adult emotions.

    Two of the very few exceptions who skated as seniors without making me anxious were, ironically, two of my favorite skaters ever, Michelle Kwan and Katia Gordeyeva. Michelle was dressed age-appropriately and wore no makeup, and Katia's partner Sergei wasn't that much older than she, so I didn't feel he was like an adult skating with a baby. I'm not excusing them, I'm just saying that they seem to have belonged where they were. By all evidence, Michelle was carefully protected from overextending herself. Katia as a pairs skater did fewer of the really damaging jumps, and she came just at the start of the period when pairs skating was becoming almost life-threatening for the female member of the pair.

    But as a rule, I look at these super-young skaters (especially now when the very difficult jumps are in demand) and worry that I'm watching not a sport but violations of the child labor laws. It makes me squirm with unease and even some guilt.

    As for Sonja Henie competing at a young age, the skaters at that period barely did single jumps. The sheer physical grind wasn't an issue.
    Last edited by Olympia; 01-15-2013 at 03:39 PM.

  7. #7
    Spectator dwiggin3's Avatar
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    There is a great deal tucked into the OP but would like to see firmer age limits on Novice, Junior and Senior skaters in the US - especially ladies (I can't really say much about dance, pairs and men other than I fully understand the need to start early with dance and pairs).

    All too often, I see very young girls skating at nationals who have such poor technique and have so much physical growing to do, I wonder what becomes of them after puberty arrives. Additionally, I also wonder if at such young ages, their training takes away from their childhood and overall development. That is not to say that young girls who commit themselves to their skating goals are destined to be developmentally stunted, but I do wonder if they, along with their parents, understand the sacrifices they are making.

    Many young girls are able to obtain the necessary revolution for triple jumps because they have yet to physically develop however, this is often at the expense of good technique. As they grow, they rely on poor technique to execute difficult jumps, which in turn puts stress on developing joints, muscles, tendons and so forth. It is because their bodies are so malleable that they can manage to land jumps (and in many cases, complete spins and footwork) despite horrendous technique. In spite of poor technique parents, coaches, choreographers, judges etc. reward young skaters and they whiz up the testing ladder. Even if they had decent technique, most lack the maturity needed to master complicated and technically demanding choreography. What results is the "baby ballerina" phenominon. Some may not find any fault with this however, it is not my cup-of-tea. When Miri one nationals her first time, I was frankly sad to see that a child would now represented US ladies skating. I am not commenting on whether she should have won, or what the best skater that night but rather, that a child - with a child's body, was now the representation of ladies skating for at least the next year. I much preferred her after she developed physically - despite some of her lackluster performances. I appreciated her skating, her talent and her zest far more when I saw a young woman on the ice than I did a child.

    For me, what makes ladies skating so wonderful and magical is to see that rare combination of beauty, technique, speed and power that really only can come with a certain level of both physical and mental maturity. A great example of this is Ashley Wagner. While not my favorite skater, I do appreciate that she is not a child - not a baby and that time and physical/mental maturity has allowed her to discipline her body and mind. The same can certainly be said of Michelle Kwan - she just got better with age, despite the injury. Finally, who can forget Dorothy Hamill - sans the jumps, she was still far more impressive as a "middle-aged mom" powering through the ice with such secure edges and technique than any 12 year old pre-teen girl contorting herself into unnatural positions during spins and achieving minimal height and distance on ever-so-tiny jumps.

    Just my two (or many three, four and five!) cents.
    Last edited by dwiggin3; 01-15-2013 at 03:53 PM.

  8. #8
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    Yes, the event CaroLiza_fan is talking about is Russian senior nationals.

    The ISU doesn't have the authority to dictate how national federations conduct their domestic events.
    Different federations have different needs based on the skating population in that country -- absolute numbers, when and why skaters tend to peak or to quit, etc.

    In the US, junior vs. senior are skill levels, with no upper and lower age limits. The best skaters who make it to Nationals tend to cluster within a specific age group, with some overlap in the mid teens. But in general the US qualifying structure divides skaters by skill first and then in some cases (lower levels at nonqualifying competitions with large numbers of entries; juvenile vs. open juvenile; adult competitions with enough entries to separate skaters who may have 40-50+ years age difference between youngest and oldest at that test level).

    But for novice through senior (i.e., potentially elite) competition levels, including the internal qualifiers, any eligible skater who passes the tests can enter regionals, or sectionals for pairs and dance, regardless of age. If they qualify for Nationals, they can compete there. If they place high enough to merit international assignments, then they're limited in what they're eligible for based on the ISU age limits. So if they're 12 or young 13 (birthday after July 1) at senior Nationals, they'll have to wait till the following season to get junior assignments.

    In some other countries, there are many fewer skaters and very very few at elite skill levels

    And various situations in between.

    Some countries allow skaters to compete in domestic championships at more than one level in the same season.

    I think we need to think of all domestic competitions as developmental for the younger skaters, whom we hope will stay healthy and committed the sport and have successful senior international careers when they're old enough. Should the best early-teen skaters be competing with those closer to their skill level or closer to their age? What are good compromises for the specific needs of each federation -- and the specific needs of each individual skater. Not all are going to make it to the elite senior international level for one reason or another. What are good events for those who are on track to do so (but may or may not get derailed along the way)?

    Another consideration is the effect on the pretty-good late-teen skaters. Are they more or less likely to stick around at senior level if they have to compete against more-talented but less-mature younger skaters? And does it help or hurt the strength of that country's skating program to keep them around?

    Here are some US skaters competing as seniors before age 15 (i.e., ineligible for ISU championships under the current rules):

    Janet Lynn 1968

    Elaine Zayak 1980

    Nicole Bobek 1991

    Lisa Ervin 1992

    Michelle Kwan 1993

    Michelle Kwan 1995

    Tara Lipinski 1996

    [current age rules introduced, with some exceptions]

    Tara Lipinski 1997

    Naomi Nari Nam 1999

    Sarah Hughes 1999

    [age rules tightened further]

    Bebe Liang 2001

    Rachael Flatt 2007

    Caroline Zhang 2008

    Mirai Nagasu 2008

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olympia View Post
    In terms of the physical demands, junior skaters do fewer jumps and skate shorter programs.
    Actually junior skaters do the exact same number of jumps as seniors.

    They're just not required to do triples in the short program -- doubles are legal. And the boys can't do quads in the short, girls can't do triple axel as the solo axel.

    Otherwise they are allowed to do almost the same maximum content as the seniors in the SP and the exact same jump layouts in either junior or senior programs. The junior LP is 30 seconds shorter, so assuming the choreo sequence (the one additional element in the senior program) doesn't take up 30 seconds, the juniors have to cram the same amount of content into less time, which is probably more likely to cause injuries.

  10. #10
    Bona Fide Member Buttercup's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    I agree with CaroLiza Fan. Why can't the juniors skate in athletic attire. For that matter, why can't seniors? The first rule about clothing in the ISU rule book says, skaters must perform in costumes appropriate to an athletic contest. This rule is violated by ever skater, man, woman, and pair, on the ice.
    That's not true. There's a thread on FSU focusing on skaters who performed in simple, elegant costumes that includes quite a few examples. Here are a couple of relatively recent ones.

    And who gets to define what's appropriate to an athletic event? (Yes, yes, the technical panel ). I think a sequined dress can be very appropriate and certainly aesthetically more pleasing than those hideous things Scott Hamilton wore, or the a gymnast's leotard (so unattractive, even on obviously fit young women). There are plenty of option between that and shredded chiffon, gaudy ornamentation and misused illusion mesh.

  11. #11
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    FYI, it was Zhang Dan who retired, I know it's a bit confusing as Dan is a Western male name, but Dan's name in Chinese is a girl's name!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post

    I agree with CaroLiza Fan. Why can't the juniors skate in athletic attire. For that matter, why can't seniors? The first rule about clothing in the ISU rule book says, skaters must perform in costumes appropriate to an athletic contest. This rule is violated by ever skater, man, woman, and pair, on the ice.
    Though I agree that alot of the costumes are inappropriate, I would love to see the reaction of the ladies if they were told they could only compete in "athletic" attire. I have first hand experience of competing in this sport for many years, and as much as you may object to these skimpy outfits, most of the girls love their dresses and would be appalled if they were told to wear leggings and training clothes to compete.

    And as for one of the original questions on why these young ladies are competing as seniors and not older ladies it is because they are better especialy in russia in recent years the ladies program has improved exponentially and the younger generations of ladies are therfore far more advanced than the older ones, would you really prefer to watch doronina and petushkova battle it out wth mkarova at russian nats?

  13. #13
    Idita-Rock-n-Roll Tonichelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post

    I agree with CaroLiza Fan. Why can't the juniors skate in athletic attire. For that matter, why can't seniors? The first rule about clothing in the ISU rule book says, skaters must perform in costumes appropriate to an athletic contest. This rule is violated by ever skater, man, woman, and pair, on the ice.
    Scott Hamilton skated in Speed Skater suits after 1981

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    It does seem that the Russian example is a little extreme because that program had a big reboot after the USSR devolved and reformed as the countries we see today. It may be that as the system stablizes we'll see more skaters like Irina S, Maria B, Elena S and Viktoria V representing Russia. Right now there just aren't skaters in thier late teens and early twenties able to compete on the international stage. In general it seems to me that the over all trend in women's skating is for slightly older skaters to do well. We'll always have young phenoms, but they may become the exception not the rule.

  15. #15
    On the Ice Mathman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buttercup View Post
    That's not true. There's a thread on FSU focusing on skaters who performed in simple, elegant costumes that includes quite a few examples. Here are a couple of relatively recent ones
    Now that's what I'm talking about! Young Mr. Kozuakk is handsome as he wants to be in his sports attire.

    And who gets to define what's appropriate to an athletic event?
    Well, here are some examples of proper attire in other sports.

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