Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Unevens and the Parellels (Part 2)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever read, or at least heard of, the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters by Joan Ryan.

As it happens, I can only claim the latter—heard of it frequently; have yet to read it. Still, it springs back to mind this week as the cries of foul grow louder over the Chinese female gymnasts. You know, the ones who are of Olympic-competing age. Maybe.

But also as it happens, the book was written over a decade ago, at a time when girls younger than 16 were still allowed to compete at the Olympics in both sports. U.S. skating fans know all too well about the irony of having the majority of our top-ranked “women” being too young to compete at the biggest events of the season. Nonetheless, whether you’re for or against the age requirements, one thing is certain: the rules are the rules.

I won’t claim to know the details of the Chinese age controversy—I’m doing well to stay up late enough each night to watch gymnastics at all. But in taking a look at what one of my favorite sports journalists,
E.M. Swift, says about the matter, it truly is frustrating. “There is a 68-pound girl (Deng Linlin) on that team is claiming to be 16 years old,” Swift points out. “That is not a healthy body. If she is 16 and weighs 68 pounds, someone ought to put her in a hospital.” Indeed!

It’s probably been argued that the Little Girls in Pretty Boxes book, which stresses the physical and psychological dangers of pushing a prepubescent body too far too soon, created the kind of debate that actually brought on the16-and-over rule. If, in fact, the Chinese have underage competitors in this Olympics and it goes unproven and unpunished… I hope and pray we don’t start seeing matchbox-sized “16 year olds” show up on the world skating scene. They’re tiny enough as it is, with enough pressure on their slim shoulders already.

In the meantime, maybe we should start sending Ryan’s book to China. By the “pretty box”-ful.

Since the focus has been on the ladies this time, the
Clip of the Day goes to Arakawa’s gold medal free skate in Torino.


Isobel said...

There is in fact already a young Chinese skater that many people are suspicious of, if only because she only appeared this season, at the official age of 14, which would conveniently make her 16 in time for Vancouver. If you wish to form your own conclusions, her LP from junior worlds is at

Kelli Lawrence said...

I took a look, and all I can say for certain is that she seems pretty similar in size to the "16-year-olds" on the gymnastics team (some of which look more like 12)!

Oy vey...

Anonymous said...

I finished that book yesterday!