August 14th, 2008
10:09 AM ET

Olympic Gold Medalist says "let them play"

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Shannon Miller
Olympic Gold Medalist

This is such an exciting Olympic Games!

The gymnastics skills that these men and women are doing are just ridiculous. They are all so talented and performing moves I never would have dreamed of attempting.

I am so proud of the American men. Losing both Paul and Morgan Hamm right before the start of the Games was devastating. This could have been a disaster.

Instead, they fought back. These six men, all first time Olympians, faced a grueling task. Along their journey to the medal podium they have shown excitement, class and dignity every step of the way. They turned a bronze medal finish into one of the most memorable moments of these Olympic Games.

As for the women, my heart goes out to them. I hope that they will continue to remember that they won a silver medal at the Olympic Games. That is certainly nothing to be disappointed about.

I know it’s difficult but they still have individual competitions to go and they must focus on what's ahead.
The women have dealt with some tough last minute injuries. Chellsie Memmel was only able to help on uneven bars, Samantha Peszek was out completely during finals and still they were doing an incredible job up until the dreaded balance beam.

Alicia Sacramone will have a chance to redeem herself during vault finals. She is one of the best in the world, certainly the best in the U.S. Realizing that she will be replaying those falls over and over for a very long time it’s important for her to remember that falls can happen to anyone. It’s not fun but you will get through it.

Shawn and Nastia will be exciting to watch in the Individual All-Around competition. But watch out for the Russians. They just missed a place on the medal podium and are looking to regain their status as a gymnastics powerhouse.

In the next few days the U.S. has a legitimate chance to bring home eight medals. If there are any athletes in the world (besides Michael Phelps of course) that could bring home some big hardware they are Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin.

And what would the Olympics be without controversy? The age of three Chinese gymnasts are under scrutiny. Interestingly, the three athletes made up the entire Chinese uneven bar squad, the event that solidified their lead over the United States.

However, the IOC and FIG (the two international governing bodies) have basically looked the other way. So we will likely never know their true ages.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I am not a fan of the age rule. I believe that the best athletes should compete, regardless of age. That’s what the Olympics are all about – the best of the best.

But those are the current rules and if we’re going to have a level playing field then we all have to play by the same rule book.

I am one of the few gymnasts who has ever been directly affected by an age falsification scandal. I lived in ignorant bliss. All I cared about was hitting my own routines and I rarely ever watched the athletes competing around me. I didn’t want to take the chance of getting psyched out by a great (or horrific) performance.

This is not a new phenomenon in gymnastics. One scandal affected me.

It started at the 1991 World Championships with a North Korean gymnast. Her coaches claimed she was 15 years old on documents for three consecutive years. She then competed at the 1992 Olympics with no front teeth while claiming to be 17 years old.

While she got to keep her medals, North Korea was punished by having to sit out the 1993 Worlds. One of those medals was a gold on uneven bars at the 1991 World Championships; also my first World competition. I got silver.

In retrospect, I don’t think about her age as much as I remember what a truly outstanding athlete she was. She won that gold medal with a 10.0 and earned every tenth. She was absolutely the best bar worker in that competition.

However, I strongly agree that once the rules are set you must abide by them. My hope is that one day they will do away with any type of an age limit.

I was 15 years old at my first Olympics. If I had to go by the current rules I would not have been eligible to compete in Barcelona. In fact, half our team would have been ineligible.

And if you had told me I was too young to compete I would have looked at you like you were crazy. That year I brought home five Olympic medals. Because of our experience at those Games, Kerri Strug, Dominique Dawes and I were able to lead the 1996 team to gold.

So everyone must play by the rules or “competition” is meaningless. My feelings are this:

  1. It doesn’t matter if it is doping or age falsification, if competition is supposed to mean something then the International governing bodies need to investigate and make sure that everyone is playing by the rules.
  2. I hope one day soon the governing bodies will revisit whether or not the minimum age limit rule makes sense. Girls with a dream will not stop training simply because they were born on January 1st instead of December 31st. It simply adds another four years to their journey.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Olympics
soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Michele

    To call the sport "women's gymnastics" when the Chinese are merely girls is ridiculous. Age should matter. Its almost abusive the way these little girls – especially the Chinese – are pushed. Removed from their homes at 3? Crazy.

    Remember when Nadia won gold at 14? She tried to come back 4 years later after she hit puberty and gained 25 pounds. It totally threw off her balance and she never regained the skill she previously had. At least at age 16 there is a better chance of keeping the field level.

    Gymnasts work better when they're still "little girls" but let's face it. These are bodies that are still growing and it is a terrible thing to possibly injure a 12 or 13 year old for the sake of some medal. At least in the US they can get their face on a cereal box and millions in endorsements. What do they get in communist countries. Maybe the family gets a car or a better apt. but when its all said and done these medals go to the government and the atheletes are tossed aside like overworked race horses.

    August 15, 2008 at 9:53 am |
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