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'It's the right thing for the sport' | Doctors, skaters weigh in on increased age limit for competition

The change will mean longer wait times for Olympic hopefuls and possibly a change to what skills will be performed on the ice.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Back in February, the Beijing Olympic Games brought figure skating back to the world stage. 

The competition first making headlines as 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva became the first woman to land a quad jump during Olympic competition, then later for the doping scandal and emotional breakdown on the ice that followed. 

Those events sparked a renewed conversation around the world and among the figure skating community, calling for the age limit for elite competition to be increased from 15 years old. And earlier this month, the International Skating Union voted overwhelmingly to increase the minimum age up to 17. 

The change will mean longer wait times for Olympic hopefuls and possibly a change to what skills are able to be performed on the ice. But many in the skating community are applauding the decision, saying this change has been decades in the making. 

Even on a hot summer day, Daisy Dorsett loves to hit the ice from the rink in Columbus, Indiana. 

"It's cold, and then it just makes me feel amazing whenever you're skating," said Dorsett, who lives in North Vernon.

Credit: Associated Press

At 13 years old, Dorsett has only been figure skating for a year, but already, her quick learning is showing up on the ice. 

"I got first in the first competition," Dorsett said.  

And with another two competitions next month, she's hopeful her skills will allow her to place highly there, too. Dorsett is hopeful that after a few more years of training, she'll be ready for the Olympics. 

"Someday, I hope," Dorsett said. 

"I believe her. She wants it, she wants to do it. and I'm here to help," said Emma Baxter, a former figure skater and longtime figure skating coach. 

Baxter, Daisy's coach, is no stranger to the rink herself. 

"My mother is a coach and since she worked here, as soon as I could walk she would put skates on my feet and have me skate while she worked," Baxter said. 

Last week, the International Skating Union voted to increase the minimum age for senior figure skating competition from 15 years old up to 17.  

In the more than three decades around the sport now, Baxter said this decision will bring big changes for skaters. 

"You know, at 17, when you mature and grow, the physics behind your body and the dynamics, if you're just a tiny little thing in skating and your hips haven't dispersed out, you can rotate faster, you can spin faster, you can jump higher if you have that ability,” said Baxter. 

Credit: Angela Smith

"I think it was really wise of the international skating union to say 17 is where we need to be," said Angela Smith, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine and former world team physician for US Figure Skating.  

Smith said this is an important change for the sport and for women's health. The need for the change, Smith said, was brought to the forefront again in Beijing, when Kamila Valieva’s doping scandal and emotional breakdown was put on the world stage. 

“It’s the right thing to for women’s mental health, it’s the right thing to do for women’s physical health. In my opinion, it’s the right thing for the sport,” Smith said. 

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The physical health side of the decision is huge, Smith stressed. In order to stay slim and keep the ability to land certain jumps, Smith said there have been reports for decades of disordered eating, skaters starving themselves to put off puberty until after their Olympic chances have passed. 

RELATED: Figure skating minimum age raised before next Olympics

“They eat protein powder. We’ve heard skaters say they never eat solid food. We’ve heard skaters talk about extreme routines, like they’re practicing 12 hours a day,” Smith said. 

Staying thin as a figure skater, Smith said, is something many athletes view as important to be able to land their best tricks consistently. 

“Young women, they do gain hips, they do gain breasts and so they no longer have that very tight, narrow, lean, skinny, frankly, body of a pre-pubital girl that has made that athletes these days be able to do quad jumps even when they’re female,” Smith said. 

The recommendation to increase the age isn’t new. Smith said it was first brought up in the 1990s. And while it’s been a long road taking a hard toll on young skaters to get to this point, she said, it’s important that the ISU implement the change. 

"It's taken 30 years for this to come about. And thank goodness it has and it's going up to 17, not just 16, because it's clear 16 isn't high enough," Smith said. 

But what this will mean for young skaters vying to make it to that elite level in the coming years is still unclear. 

“Will they be doing quads next year? I don’t know. I don’t know whether other methods will be found to stave off puberty beyond the age of 17. It’s frightening to imagine, maybe it’s possible," Smith said. "I don’t know."

"I wonder how it will unfold but, it could be good," Baxter said. "But if you're ready at 15, you might be incredibly amazing by your 17th year, who knows, but I think it might maybe be a little more fair."

Hitting the rink herself, Dorsett said she sees both sides, believing the ISU's decision could end up being both good and bad for the future of figure skating moving forward. But, she said, it’s not changing her dream of making it to that Olympic ice down the road.  

"I'm 17 in four years anyways," Dorsett said. 

The new, 17-year-old age limit will be in place for the Milano Cortina Winter Olympics in 2026.

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