The problem of age

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The problem of age

By Graham Morrison

Tuesday August 30, 2011

If there is one problem concerning the upper echelons of world gymnastics it is that of age. Some may recall the investigations at past Olympics into how old a gymnast was. Well, a gymnast now must be 16. There have been arguments in the past. New Zealand ‘Young Reporter’ Aaron Lawton grilled FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) president Bruno Grandi on this subject at the Shenzhen 2011 Universiade (ex World University Games). Grandi identified forged documents, under-age competitors, early burnout, and the really early start in the sport, as problem areas. We noticed. Hopefully, Grandi will succeed in his mission to deal with all the problems, both perceived and real.

Early burnout is an interesting point. Do you hold athletes back in the junior or cadet ranks in case they peak too soon, or do you get on and get the medals now.  After all, burn-out might not be the real problem; the real problem might be that, as is well illustrated in Fencing for example, an athlete can achieve moderate success or world medals in juniors but just can’t hack it later in international seniors. Potential often fails to fulfil the promise. In many sports, the jump from junior to senior is often just the turn of a birthday, but in performance terms it can be another universe. National Governing Bodies hope that success at one level can be repeated at another, but the real world often differs; it is a complex problem.

Rugby, soon to be an Olympic sport in its ‘Rugby 7s’ format, appears to be unable to shake off internal disputes, which so often plague sports and distract from their raison d’être. However, apart from the good news about Rio 2016, Sir Clive Woodward, rugby’s erstwhile and successful coach who is now the BOA’s Director or Elite Performance, is upbeat over England’s chances of lifting the rugby world cup again according to Ian Cole of the Sports Journalists’ Association. This “despite the squad’s spate of injures and some disappointing performances in the warm-up games.”

And now everyone can try rugby’s full game it seems, and no worries about that 16-stone plus full back landing on you. This is ‘Touch London’, a welcome Rugby Football Union (RFU) initiative with funding from Boris’ 2012 Sports Legacy Fund. It is non-contact, and mixed teams are welcome. All you need is an enthusiastic group and the RFU will provide a qualified coach and taster sessions. Of course if you are really hooked you can always go to a regular club for full-on match contact with that 16-stone full back! You’d then learn the several names for, and the many skills needed by, the fly-half. Visit www.rfu.com (opens new window) and enter ’Touch London’ in the search pane.

The new zero-tolerance of false starts rule in athletics has caused several upsets in the world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea. First Christine Ohuruogu saw a year of training go to nothing as she left the blocks early, then next day Usain Bolt was disqualified from the 100m final for the same offence. Ohuruogu, though deeply upset, must focus on the 4 by 400 relay, while Bolt also will race another distance. Some reports have speculated that Bolt became distracted by compatriot Yohan Blake, who went on to win gold in 9.92 seconds. Rules are rules. But is this rule really fair on athletes and spectators? Discounting ‘Gamesmanship’, athletes deserve a second chance following a genuine mistake. And the spectators, who have forked out large sums and travelled maybe half way around the world? They made the effort to see, in these cases anyway, Olympic champions win or lose, not get eliminated on a technicality. Perhaps Gymnastics is not the only sport with a question to address.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

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