Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another way of cheating?

Doping is a big issue in sports worldwide. With the Games in session, it really comes to the limelight. There have already been a string of athletes charged with doping, including US swimmer Jessica Hardy who bowed out of the Olympics after testing positive for clenbuterol, a Spanish cyclist who tested positive for EPO, and seven Russian track and field athletes, some of whom were to compete in the Games, who illicitly substitued their urine for someone else's. There have also been eyebrows raised with several of the Chinese swimmers winning their heats in the 4x100 reloay, coming out of nowhere with exceptionally fast times.

Then, there is gymnastics. Though there was the Romanian gymnast, Andrea Raducan, who was stripped of her gold meal after testing positive for pseudoephedrine, a banned substance, which her coach had given her for a cold at the 2000 Olympics, normally, doping charges aren't in the conventional way in this sport. Instead, it's to do with falsifying ages. This is not new for the sport. In 1997, the age of eligibility to participate in the Olympics was raised to 16. Many felt it was for the safety of the girls. However, since then, some feel like it's only gotten worse, not better.

Currently, there is a huge debate about the Chinese women's gymnastics team with 3 out of the 6 appearing younger than 16 years of age. Supposedly, the team passports have been checked and all is okay. Hmmm. Just like eating disorders, this issue is a bit taboo, and especially in a host nation's country.

One outspoken person has been Bela Karolyi who feels like it is a slap in the face. He says it is obvious these girls are not the ages they say, especially when compared to the US gymnasts. These Chinese gymnasts are at least 3 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter. That's a whole heck of a lot, though it is hard to say for sure whether it is age or malnourishment, unfortunately. And with China's record (as well as other totalitarian nations--Romania has confessed to falsifying ages of Gina Gogean and Alexandrea Marinescu in 2002), it really can't be put past them. Apparently, Yang Yun, one of the Chinese gymnasts who won in the Sydney Games was only 14 at the time.

So, the question is, is this another form of cheating? And if China has done this, what is the answer to alleviating the problem?

According to Bela and Martha Karolyi, age restrictions should be lifted. That way, as Martha Karolyi says, "it would even the playing field." However, Bela Karolyi points out that there would still be the issue of using young gymnasts as "pawns" to win.

However, in this New York Times article, the Italian women's gymnastics coach apparently has the answer, "create weight classes." In this same article, he also says how it could be suspected that the US gymnasts were doping since they were so much more muscular than his gymnasts.

Great, that's just the answer. We need more of them to think about body image issues as it is or to have coaches doping their girls in order to stay at a certain weight. I don't know the answer to this issue, but I can tell you right now, having weight classes will only cause more harm than good. We already have boxers, wrestlers, and horse jockeys (all sports where there are weight classes) self-harm themselves in order to make their weight classes, I don't think gymnastics needs to be included.

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