After Kamila Valieva saga, figure skating governing body proposes raising minimum age to 17

Months after the Kamila Valieva saga dominated the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the international federation for figure skating has proposed raising the minimum age for senior competition from 15 to 17.

The International Skating Union unveiled details of the proposal as part of the agenda for its upcoming meetings in Thailand beginning June 5, and cited findings from its medical commission as reasons for the move. If enacted, the proposal would gradually increase the minimum age over the next three years, from 15 to 16 and then 17 in the leadup to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.

“Allowing underage athletes to compete may subject them to loads and risks that are thought to be inappropriate for their age – not only physically, but in terms of the psychological and social development of the child,” the ISU’s medical commission wrote.

“The concern includes burnout, disordered eating, and longterm consequences of injury.”

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The proposal comes less than three months after Valieva, then 15, found herself at the center of an international doping scandal during the Beijing Olympics.

The Russian phenom helped her country win gold in the team figure skating event before news broke that she had tested positive for a banned substance months before the Games. A frantic legal battle ensued, and although Valieva was ultimately allowed to compete individually, she collapsed in the long program and finished just off the podium.

The story prompted public outrage at both Russia, which was already competing under a neutral flag due to repeated violations of anti-doping rules, and Valieva’s coaches. It also prompted questions about whether 15-year-olds should be competing at the senior level in the first place.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said in February that the organization’s executive board had discussed the possibility of imposing a minimum age for Olympic competition, though he noted that the IOC would first have to consult with international federations such as the ISU.

“We will initiate such a discussion and at least give them some food for thought,” Bach said.

Age is a particularly salient issue in figure skating, where younger athletes are also the ones usually pushing the sport’s technical, performing quadruple jumps more easily than their older peers.

Each of the past three women to win individual gold at the Olympics were 17 or younger at the time, and it is relatively common for female skaters in particular to retire by their early 20s. Alysa Liu, a two-time US champion, announced her retirement earlier last month at 16.

As the Valieva saga was unfolding in Beijing, multiple skaters said they would be in favor of raising the age limit in their sport, in part because it might help extend skaters’ careers.

“When you look at the era of Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen, those are people you could cheer for for several years,” US skater Mariah Bell said. “It was such a great representation of the sport. So I think to have more athletes like that would be amazing and having an age limit would aid in that happening.”

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamila Valieva saga could lead figure skating to raise minimum age

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