Giant on the move
Too much, too young for Olympic gymnasts?
The more I watch the women’s gymnastics competitions the more I’m torn between amazement at the athleticism on display and horror at what can seem at times like cruel and unusual punishment.
Most elite athletes put themselves through gruelling training regimes — not to mention the mental toll that the stress of competition must take — but few are quite so young as the women’s gymnasts
The gymnastics federation states that competitors must turn 16 in an Olympic year but even assuming that rule has been steadfastly adhered to it still means they are putting their bodies through intensive training by 10 or 12.
Most of the gymnasts I’ve spoken to say they’re having a great time and just being in the competition and giving their best is what matters.
Nadia Comaneci, who wowed the world with a perfect 10 at the 1976 Games when she was just 14, said that she came through the world of high-stress competition none the worse for wear. But she had five gold medals to her name.
When I saw China’s Cheng Fei, who is 20, face reporters with eyes puffy from crying after her gold medal hopes were ruined by split-second mistakes in her performance, I was less sure the gymnasts out there were having the time of their lives.
For every medal winner there is another gymnast crumpled in tears in her coach’s arms.
PHOTO: Cheng Fei of China competes in the gymnastics women’s beam final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi