Raising competition age for figure skaters isn’t enough to fight offending coaches, former skaters say

By the time she was a teenager, Canadian figure skating champion Sandra Bezic was flying around the world competing.

Pushed by her parents to be at the top of the sport, she reached the Olympics in 1972, when she was only 15 years old.

Bezic stopped skating at the age of 17. She struggled with an injury, burnout and pressure from the people around her.

“I ran into a wall. There was no support system at the time. It was just, you know, kind of my fault that I failed,” she told CBC News in an interview.

Bezic, now a coach himself, is one of several Canadian figure skating icons welcoming new international rules that will gradually raise the competition age from 15 to 17 by the time of the next Winter Olympics in 2026.

The International Skating Union (ISU) says the restriction is aimed at “protecting skaters’ physical, mental health and emotional well-being”.

Sandra Bezic, who represented Canada in pairs skating at the 1972 Olympics, agrees with raising the minimum age for elite figure skating, but says more action needs to be taken against abusive coaches. She is pictured in Toronto on April 5, 2019. (CBC)

The move follows controversy at this year’s Winter Olympics after Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze berated tearful 15-year-old competitor Kamila Valieva after her disastrous performance. Days earlier, Valieva had tested positive for a banned drug, but was allowed to participate because athletes under 16 are generally not held responsible for using banned drugs.

“We looked at child abuse in real time. And it was devastating. It was horrific,” Bezic said of Tutberidze’s behavior to the young athlete.

Kaetlyn Osmond, who retired at age 23 as Canada’s most decorated female singles figure skater with three Olympic medals, told CBC Sports she is in favor of raising the age for entry to competitions.

“I think raising the age of 17 will only help the longevity of the sport, help a body fully mature for the demands and pressures of the sport.”

VIEW | Kaetlyn Osmond welcomes decision to raise minimum age for competition:

Raising competition age for figure skaters isn't enough to fight offending coaches, former skaters say

Kaetlyn Osmond’s thoughts on ISU raising the minimum age for figure skating to 17

Olympic and world medalist Kaetlyn Osmond talks about her experience as a young skater and why she supports the ISU to raise the minimum age for senior skaters.

The age change is not expected to keep many young Canadians out of international competitions as they are usually over the age of 15 or 16.

In a statement, Skate Canada chief executive Debra Armstrong said the national federation fully supports the age change.

“The athlete’s voice was heard loud and clear during this vote. Ensuring the health and well-being of athletes must be the foundation of everything we do.”

Calls for tougher penalties for coaches

However, some former skaters say raising the age limit is not a panacea and that tougher penalties should be imposed on coaches who abuse athletes.

“There are not enough strong and lasting consequences… Far too often individuals who engage in behaviors that harm athletes just continue a year later.” [to coach]said Jamal Otham, a former Swiss national figure skating champion and now director of the Ice Academy of Montreal, a training institute for ice dancers. Ice dance is overseen by another international federation and is not affected by the age limit changes.

Bezic agrees. “You always have that parent who pushes too hard or that coach who pushes too hard, so there have to be checks and balances for that.”

Otham points out that raising the age limit will also level the playing field for older athletes, in a sport where the narrower hips and shoulders of young skaters give them an advantage when performing jumps, but can also cause serious injuries that could lead them to early. force retirement.

Raising competition age for figure skaters isn't enough to fight offending coaches, former skaters say
Valieva, center, cries after her disastrous performance in the women’s free skate at the Beijing Olympics on February 17. Her coach Eteri Tutberidze, left, has been criticized for berating the teenager. Also pictured is choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz, right. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“The crowd is super excited when a 15-year-old girl with five quad bikes comes to a competition. There’s a lot of hype around that. And it’s easier to do because if you have the body of a 15-year-old, compared with a 20- or 22-year-old, it’s just physics,” Otham said.

And for the young athletes, Bezic says, there’s also an advantage: they can slow down and take the time to succeed in the sport they love.

“I sit here and think my competitive career was over when I was 17 when I got burned out – so it would have really served me well.”

CBC News has contacted the International Skating Union for comment.

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