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Articles > Sports & Fitness June, 22, 2015

Why an ex-gymnast thinks elite gymnastics should be BANNED

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From the grace and precision of the Chinese to the velocity and impetus the Americans display twisting and turning their bodies over and over in the air, no wonder gymnastics is regarded as an art form. From the outside, individual routines appear to be a beautiful expression of character and talent, made possible by teamwork, happiness and a united love for the sport. But what happens when the doors of the gyms close, and the masks gymnasts are forced to wear on the competition floor come off? I was a high level gymnast for 8 years, now an international athlete, and through the help of The OpinionPanel Community, I have found my voice to tell you about my experiences.

The problems in elite gymnastics are deep-rooted and originated long ago. Take these examples; Elena Mukhina and Christy Henrich. Elena Mukhina, the 1979 world-champion, was pressured by her coach to perform a Thomas Salto (now a banned skill). She competed it, fell and broke her neck. Afterwards, she said “…my injury could have been expected… I had said more than once that I would break my neck doing that element. I had hurt myself badly several times but he (coach Mikhail Klimenko) just replied, people like me “don’t break their necks.” She died at the age of 46 from complications of quadriplegia.

Christy Henrich was a world-class gymnast who died from Anorexia Nervosa at the age of 22, after a judge at an international competition told her she was “fluffy” and “needed to lose weight”. Her mother was quoted after her death; “The first thing (other athletes) told her was if there’s something you want to eat, eat it and throw it up. That’s the first thing you learn when you’re on the U.S. national team.”

Although now dated, these are very sad, but very real examples of the problems gymnasts face, even today. Trying to pursue these ideals and level of skill needed to succeed, gymnasts send injury related statistics flying much higher than their bodies.

Children in camps brutalised into future Olympians

Daily Mail – children in camps brutalised into future Olympians

More recently, in 2005, Sir Matthew Pinsent on his return from observing Chinese gymnasts in training said, “It was a pretty disturbing experience. I was really shocked by some of what was going on.” He also believed children were in pain while training and that they were being “pushed beyond acceptable limits in pursuit of excellence”.

Having been a gymnast myself, I have to agree with past evidence and with the observations of Sir Matthew Pinsent. The picture gymnastics paints – of shiny leotards, pretty hair and huge gold trophies – is very different to the reality of what goes on. Bullying, as 2012 Olympic Champion Gabby Douglas has revealed, is also very prominent in gymnastics, and the false glow of teamwork and happiness very quickly melts away when you look inside a training gym.

Gymnastics is a fun, exciting hobby that thousands of young children start each year. Happily running into the gym with their friends at 6 years old, the parents stand by oblivious to what the future may hold. Despite gymnastics giving you strength, flexibility and the determination to win, I strongly believe it should be used as a starting block for other sports and nothing else. The weight of unhealthy views and unfair expectations put on gymnasts from their peers, parents and coaches are dragging down everything sport stands for.

Coming from an ex-gymnast and now international athlete, please believe me when I say that we, as a nation, as families and as individuals, need to get our youngsters out of this monstrosity and into sports that promote true happiness and well-being. It is an issue that I, for one, am no longer willing to ignore.

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  1. Gymnastbug44

    I think it shouldn’t be banned because i an a gymnast myself and the coaches want you to perform to your own potential….

  2. Amy

    There are certainly some serious problems with elite gymnastics, but why do I have a feeling the person who wrote this is only claiming to have been a gymnast to add more weight to their opinion? If they had ever actually been a gymnast you’d think they’d want to talk more about their own experience instead of re-telling stories that are already widely known to the public.

  3. Connor Reilly

    First of all I am sorry for whatever you have gone through and cannot imagine all the mental and psychical stress that you have endured, also I congratulate you on all of your successes.

    Here is my take on this:
    It is horrible that some people feel like they are forced by people they trust to perform dangerous techniques, the thing is did they want to do it? Of course horrible coaches are terrible and casualties are as tragic but this does not warrant stopping something, actions should be taken against horrible coaches but can we truly say it was the coaches fault? What if the individual WANTED to try a risky move, people have freedom to seek their goals no matter the risk, you go argue and say that is there proof that the coach forced them to perform the move? How do we know, the athlete could have decided to make up a story to get money (not saying this was the case, all i’m saying is that this is very complex) they know the risks and take responsibility, they have trained for years to “perfect their skills” and with anything once difficulty increases so does risk. Would you purpose stopping F1 because it’s dangerous?

    If someone wants to be the best then they will want to go through whatever it takes correct? Well success takes hardship, along the way bad habits and illnesses can arise but this doesn’t mean that high level sports should be dispelled. There will be similar cases of what you have described in EVERY sport if you look deep enough.

    Going through an eating disorder myself I know what it’s like to make myself sick, starve myself and binge the next day. But I wouldn’t blame going to the gym for it (my obsession with the gym was what started it) and say NO gyms! life is how we react to things and I got my food addiction from my reactions to wanting something, to my environment and feeling worthless in the past for my weight. I KNOW what it feels like to hurt.

    If they are having fun and want to do it how is this a bad thing?! Once again bad coaches exist and I argue that children should be shown some leniency in sports and not be pushed to extreme limits since they are too young, this may stop them from even taking part in sports during the time when they are meant to be learning the skills and enjoying themselves. Though we not the individuals and maybe they decided upon themselves to go through pain because they know that struggle is what’s needed to grow, once again I am not saying there are not cases where kids are forced into it, but i am also saying that keep in mind that there could be circumstances where it maybe not be what you think and the kids have chosen to push themselves.

    Imo I feel this is something you are bringing to light since you did started to HATE it and started to feel like it was an obligation rather than something you enjoyed.

    Basically I am saying that its a big thing, I have differing opinions with you, though I do respect your opinion because I presume I know where it comes from, but I shall not withhold criticism and state that using critical thinking it is a ridiculous thing to claim.

    Lastly, I’m sorry and I hope you overcome whatever it is that’s causing you pain right now.

    Peace out + all the best

  4. Sonia

    Thank you for sharing. What are you doing to help have it banned from the Olympics?