Raising competition age for figure skaters not enough to combat abusive coaches, former skaters say

As a teenager, Canadian figure skating champion Sandra Bezic flew around the world to compete.

Motivated by her parents to become the pinnacle of sport, she made it to the Olympics in 1972, at the age of 15.

At the age of 17, Bezic retired from skating. She is struggling with trauma, exhaustion and pressure from those around her.

“I hit a wall. There was no support system at the time. You know, it was all my fault, I failed,” she told CBC News in an interview.

Bezic, now a coach, is one of a number of Canadian figure skating icons who are welcoming new international regulations that will gradually raise the age of competition from the current 15 to 17 by the time the Olympics begin. next winter festival in 2026.

The International Skating Union (ISU) said the restriction was intended “to protect the physical and mental health, as well as the emotional well-being of skaters.”

Sandra Bezic, who represented Canada in pairs skating at the 1972 Olympics, agreed with raising the minimum age to compete in elite figure skating, but said more action was needed to combat it. abusive coaches. She is pictured in Toronto on April 5, 2019. (CBC)

The move follows a controversy at this year’s Winter Olympics after Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze shed tears over 15-year-old Kamila Valieva following her disastrous performance. A few days earlier, Valieva had tested positive for a banned drug, but was allowed to compete because athletes under the age of 16 are generally not responsible for the use of the banned drug.

Bezic talks about Tutberidze’s behavior towards the young athlete.

Kaetlyn Osmond, who retired at the age of 23 as Canada’s most famous women’s figure skater with three Olympic medals, told CBC Sports she is in favor of raising the age of competition.

“I think raising the age to 17 will both help prolong the life of the sport and help a body fully mature before the demands and pressures of this sport.”

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

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

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

The change in age is not expected to keep many young Canadians out of international competitions, as they tend to be 15 or 16 years older.

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

“Athletes’ voices were heard loud and clear in this vote. Protecting athletes’ health and fitness needs to be the foundation of everything we do.”

Calls for stricter punishments for coaches

However, some former skaters say raising the age limit is not a silver bullet, and tougher penalties are needed for coaches who abuse athletes.

“There are no sufficiently strong and long-lasting consequences… It happens all too often when individuals exhibit harmful behavior towards athletes, then a year later it continues. [to coach]”, said Jamal Otham, a former Swiss national champion figure skater who is now the chief executive officer of the Montreal Ice Academy, an academy that trains contestants in ice dancing. The tape is overseen by another international federation and is not affected by age-limiting changes.

Bezic agrees. “You will always have a parent pushing too hard or a coach pushing too hard, and so there needs to be a check and balance for that.”

Otham points out that raising the age limit will also level the playing field for older athletes, in a sport where younger skaters’ narrower hips and shoulders will give them an edge. when performing jumps – but can also cause serious injury. force them to retire early.

Valieva, center, cries after her disastrous performance in women’s freestyle skating at the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 17. Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, left, was criticized for berating youth. Also pictured is choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz, right. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“The audience is super excited when a 15-year-old girl with 5 liters comes to a contest. There’s a lot of hype around that. And it’s easier to do because when you have the body of a woman. 15-year-old kid, Otham said.

And for young athletes, Bezic says, there’s also an advantage: they’ll be able to slow down a bit and take the time to achieve success in the sport they love.

“I sit here and think, my playing career is over at 17 when I’m exhausted – so it’s really going to serve me well.”

CBC News has reached out to the International Skating Union for comment.

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