So you're telling me that all things being EXACTLY equal, it is inevitable that a girl at 12 years-old will more flexible compared to herself at the age of 17? Imagine this hypothetical: you take a population of gymnasts at age 12, test their flexibility, balance, etc. You retest the very same gymnasts five years later, who all have continued their extensive training regimen, and ALL of them will be less flexible, less balanced, etc. compared to themselves five years earlier? I simply can't buy this rationale without some physiological data to back it up, and its the only way that I'd be outraged about this whole thing -- i.e., if the physiology makes it IMPOSSIBLE for one to better than yourself at an earlier age. If that was the case, then there is some parallel to steroids.
My reasoning as to why older gymnasts might get some physiological advantage, notwithstanding the experience, is that a woman's center of gravity lowers as she hits puberty (i.e., the hips enlarge), which would certainly make her more balanced in some cases.
It is not impossible to do better at 17 than when you are 13. Obviously. It's not impossible to lose a race when you're hopped up on 100 different kinds of steroids and your opponent has none, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable to do it. Every athlete is going to be different and react differently to the maturity process.
Still, you don't know what you are talking about. I wrote a really long post about this in the other gymnastics thread, but I'll simplify it here. In general terms, among elite gymnasts, the differences between 12 and 17 are:
1) They are much smaller and lighter at 12, obviously. It is easier to do three flips with two twists in the air when you are 70 pounds rather than 100 pounds. There are no healthy 70-pound 17-year-olds. There are many healthy 70-pound 12-year-olds.
2) A person's brain is far more immature at 12 than 17. Specifically, the ability to judge risks and moderate activities due to that judgement is not fully formed until someone is in their early 20s. A 12-year-old is more than a full decade from realizing how fucking insane it is to be doing the things she doing. It's a big five years. A 17-year-old is far closer. Until very recently, researchers believed this part of the brain was fully matured at 18. When that maturity means fearing the shit you're doing 100 times a day, it is tougher to go out there and do even more insane things. Obviously a 17-year-old can work through it and excel, but she's far more aware of what she's doing than when she was 12.
3) Puberty is in its very early stages at 12. Puberty is all but finished at 17. Puberty-related changes make gymnastics more difficult because of added weight and different distribution of that weight. Among other things, I'd imagine an extra 3 to 10 pounds on a girl's chest would make things like saving an off balance landing on the balance beam slightly more difficult. These are small (or sometimes huge) advantages, but many small advantages add up.
4) A 12-year-old gymnast's injury history is likely to be (and should be!) minor. A 17-year-old's injury history is likely to be significant. Nastia Luikin, who is 18, has already had reconstructive surgery on her ankle that kept her out for almost a year. Alicia Sacramone had major knee and back issues, including knee surgery at 18 that kept her out for nearly a year. Chellsie Memmel has had a long injury history starting with her first major problem, a broken foot in 2004 that kept her out of Athens. She competed with a broken foot at these Olympics. She had shoulder surgery at 18. There was a 17-year-old athlete at the selection camp that broke her leg in balance beam warmups. I don't know if she needed surgery. Bridget Sloan, 16, had arthiscropic knee surgery in March or April of this year but was back for Nationals in early June. Shawn Johnson, 16, had a minor leg injury; she needed a cast to prevent stress fractures. Samantha Peszek, 16, has had no major injury as far as I can tell.
Do you see the progression of the seriousness of injuries? There's only so much a body can take before it gets seriously injured. Even with intensive training, that point is rarely reached before 15 years old. I'd guess that if you were to research the careers of gymnasts worldwide, most of them had minimal injury problems before 15/16, but missed significant time after that age due to injury. I would guess many gymnasts retire because they physically cannot endure what it takes to remain an elite gymnast. Their bodies just can't come back after all that damage. Each sprained ankle or wrist, each strained shoulder or knee is hastening their athletic demise. It's like physical Jenga. There's only so many pieces that can be taken out before it falls. Each injury, minor and major, is just another piece that they'll never get back.
Edited by gaelgirl, 15 August 2008 - 03:43 PM.