Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why Are Gymnasts Short?

Photo by Silvia Vatteroni



Blogger Papaliukin weighs in on why are gymnasts short;

I see a variety of factors with the short height association:

1. A lot of times gymnastics tends to attract short people. Many know it’s a sport at which shorties can excel. Of course, you can’t really tell at first since all kids start small, but if the parents are on the short side, most likely their kids will be similar. While we’ve certainly seen a great variety of body types in recent years (both in MAG and WAG), short gymnasts are still a majority.

2. Some programs have a history of preferring shorter gymnasts and continue to perpetuate it. This was more true in the past starting in the ‘70s when Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci rose to fame and became the prototypes of the daring little pixie. That body type persisted through the rest to the ‘70s all the way into the ‘90s. I think within the last 10-15 years that has changed because the difficulty requirements have increased so much. Coaches have begun to realize it’s too easy to break the little ones and often struggle through puberty when they turn senior. Nevertheless, the old and outdated mentality lingers a bit in the traditional programs (*cough*::Romania, China, Russia, some US clubs::*cough*). 

3. I don’t believe height has much to do with execution and overall aesthetics though long lines can look nice. There are plenty of tall gymnasts who are sloppy AF and little nuggets who should be illustrations in the COP. Alex Shatilov and David Vecsernyes are probably the most well known tall gymnasts over 6′0″. I’m sure there are others, but those two come to mind first since I’ve watched them for years.

4. As for gymnastics stunting growth, I think in most cases (for female gymnasts at least), there is a correlation between high-level training and slower bone growth, but puberty isn’t totally stunted. It’s also true that menstrual cycles can be delayed because female gymnasts generally have lower fat percentage and bone mass than average girls their age. However, they tend to catch up when they reduce their training or stop entirely. 

Here are some links worth reading if you want further details and different perspectives:

“Female Gymnasts: does their training reduce growth rates, delay maturation and increase the risk of long-term skeletal injury?”

“Role of Intensive Training in the Growth and Maturation of Artistic Gymnasts”

“Effect of Gymnastics on Girls’ Growth Debated”

“Does gymnastics derail puberty?”

It seems to me there’s still plenty of debate, and that’s only a sliver of information out there. Unfortunately almost every significant study deals only with female gymnasts. I’ve hardly ever seen anything on male gymnasts. However, virtually all male gymnasts don’t reach their physical peak until they’ve finished puberty, so perhaps people are less concerned about the effects of the sport on their bodies. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t give a more valid observation.


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