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Young Champions and Rules to Keep Them Out

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Here's an LA Times write-up on the new U.S. women's figure skating champ, Mirai Nagasu. Sounds like a normal 14-year-old, although her parents seem a bit nervous about all the attention. They'd better get used to it since their little skater is sure to get more in the coming years, especially considering how dominating she was in the national championships this year.

Here is where I will register my dissatisfaction with the ridiculous age limitation on skaters going to world championships. Thankfully, USA Today's Christine Brennan says it better than I can:

The International Skating Union says to compete in the 2008 world championships in Sweden, skaters had to turn 15 by July 1, 2007. The intent of this minimum-age rule is to keep the kids down on the farm until they are a bit more ready for the pressure and fame, but in reality, it's just another silly skating rule. All of the top teenagers already are traveling around the world to junior competitions, doing all the toughest jumps, missing school and making money. Some even have agents. Innocent little
things they are not.

Additionally, it's not as though this rule is going to protect young skaters from overdoing it early on and being sidelined with an injury at an early age like Tara Lipinski was a few years after the 1998 Olympics. Since the skaters are allowed to compete in other competitions they've still got to get their technical scores up and will be practicing those triples anyway.

I do have one quibble with Brennan's assertion about how much it could hurt the U.S. in the long run to send their lower-ranking, yet older skates to the world championships:

If they don't skate well and get a relatively high placement, it could cost the USA one spot in next year's world championships in Los Angeles. If the placement of the top two skaters from any country sending three skaters to worlds doesn't equal 13 or less — say, a fourth place and a ninth place — that country will be able to send only two skaters to the next worlds.

And the dominoes keep falling. It's a big deal if the USA can send only two women to the 2009 worlds because if young skaters don't get a shot in front of the international judges on the biggest stage the year before the Olympics, it's unlikely they're going to win a medal at the Olympics 11 months later.

Although the statement is true, the rule is applied equally to every country, so everyone should be in the same boat on this. The other countries contending for those precious Olympic spots are at the same disadvantage and just as likely to be unable to send their top talent to worlds.