Top Elites Elevate The Sport And Prove Age Is Just A Number In Gymnastics

There is a common misconception about women's gymnastics -- many believe it's a sport for young athletes. Sixteen has long been seen as the magic age when gymnasts are at their prime, and many (wrongly) believe that elite gymnasts are forced to retire after graduating from their teenage years. In reality, not only can gymnasts improve as they get older, but they elevate the sport through bigger skills, name recognition, and increased confidence.

Many top gymnasts have continued to compete long after saying goodbye to their teens. Oksana Chusovitina from Uzbekistan is the extreme example. She is turning 42 in a few months, and she's still placing on the podium on one of the toughest events on the body -- vault. Even some of the top competitors from Rio were well above 16 at the time. Simone Biles, the all-around champion, was 19 when she won her medal. Her teammate, Aly Raisman, was 22 and arguably performed even better than she did when she competed in London four years earlier. Russia's Aliya Mustafina, who won the bronze in the all-around and the gold on uneven bars, was a month shy of being 22 in Rio. 

All of these athletes have achieved greatness in gymnastics far beyond their teenage years and have grown the sport both on and off the competition floor. Over the years, gymnasts who stay in the sport longer get to know themselves and their bodies better, making them stronger and more confident. For Raisman, Biles, and many other athletes, they have developed a level of confidence that allows them to be a voice for the athletes and represent organizations or companies they believe in.

They are often able to master bigger skills, which are rewarded in the current Code of Points, elevating the skill level and intensifying the competition. Fans get a chance to get to know the gymnasts as they grow up and mature through their career, which builds excitement and passion around the sport.

A good illustration of the typical age of elite competitors today can be seen by looking at the recent European Championships in Romania -- one of the most important elite competitions all year. Gymnasts from more than 30 countries competed at the meet, which lasted over five days. In looking at the list of qualifiers for the all-around final and event finals, the average competitor age was just over 19 years old. Similarly, in looking at the gymnasts who medaled, their average age was also 19, suggesting that the gymnasts who are performing best are those who tend to be older. 

The oldest competitor out of all the qualifiers was Romania's Catalina Ponor, who successfully captured her fifth European title on balance beam -- the only gymnast to ever do so. Competing on her home turf, the 29-year-old Ponor showed the same high difficulty and graceful confidence at Euros this year that she displayed in her gold medal-winning performance at the 2004 Olympics, despite being over 10 years older now. See her routine that won her the event final below: 



Ponor was not the only medalist well above age 16 who competed at Euros this year. Twenty-three-year-old Elisabeth Seitz from Germany tied for the bronze medal on uneven bars, her first medal in an event final. Seitz was the European all-around champion back in 2011. Now, six years later, she is still an incredible bar swinger, throwing some of the toughest skills in the field. Her teammate, Kim Bui, is even older at 28 and managed to qualify into the all-around, bars, and floor finals. 


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In addition to many of these gymnasts continuing to compete well into their 20s and 30s, several others actually start performing their best gymnastics as they get older. Sanne Wevers from the Netherlands, who also recently competed at Euros, is a good example of this. Wevers made her international debut in 2007 at 16 years old, but she didn't win her first major medal until 2015, when she was 24. That year, she captured medals on beam at both the European Championships and World Championships. She improved even more the next year when she won the gold medal on beam at the Rio Olympics. 


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Ellie Downie is another good example of a gymnast who only seems to be getting better with age. Downie competed at her first European Championships in 2015, when she won the bronze in the all-around. Fast forward to this year in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where she captured the top spot in the all-around, won two silver medals on vault and floor, and took the bronze on uneven bars. Her older sister, Becky Downie, is still competing at age 25. Although Becky Downie had her senior international debut in 2008, she didn't win her first gold medal at European Championships until 2014, when she was 22.

There are countless examples we can look at to show that elite gymnasts still achieve great things as they get older. As gymnasts continue to count more birthdays, they also gain invaluable experience and the confidence that comes with it. Ponor looked unbelievably solid up on the beam at Euros, with no hint of hesitation. After competing on so many world stages before, she knows how to handle the pressure. The skills she threw also suited her and played to her strengths, something that comes from a gymnast knowing her body and how best to train to achieve results.

For the sport as a whole, having gymnasts in the sport who are capable of continuing to compete at a high level will continue to elevate the skill level, the fanbase, and create a new standard for the typical age of gymnastics stars.

It's about time that we dispel with the myth that gymnasts peak in their mid-teens and instead look forward to seeing even more great gymnastics from our "old favorites" -- who are not really so old, after all.

5 NCAA Gymnasts To Watch At Elevate The Stage Toledo

With the conclusion of World Championships and the start of NCAA preseason exhibitions, it's almost time for the collegiate gymnastics season to begin. FloGymnastics will be providing coverage of several NCAA meets, including the NCAA meets at Elevate the Stage Toledo. Competing at Elevate the Stage gives collegiate teams the valuable opportunity to compete on podium, the same raised setup used at NCAA Championships. 

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Simone Biles Leads D-Scores At 2018 Gymnastics World All-Around Final

Simone Biles won the 2018 women's all-around title at the 2018 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, despite mistakes on three events, hurting her execution scores. What helped her finish the meet on top even with two falls was her difficulty score, which leads the entire women's all-around field by nearly three points. 

Help Change A Coach's Life: Vote Now For The 2018 Hometown Hero Award!

Hometown Heroes — an award to recognize the finest coaches in the country who make an impact in the community by changing high school-age athletes' lives for the better. You have from now until Friday, November 16, to vote for the 2018 Hometown Heroes Award. The winner to take home $25,000!

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USA Gymnastics Response Statement To USOC's De-Recognition Letter

Quote and letter via USA Gymnastics:

“The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issued a letter today to USA Gymnastics initiating actions pursuant to Article 8 of its bylaws, which could ultimately result in the de-recognition of USA Gymnastics as a National Governing Body (NGB). This action is in accordance with their bylaws, which grant the USOC the power to review all matters relating to the continued recognition of an NGB. USA Gymnastics is carefully reviewing the contents of this letter and is evaluating the best path forward for our athletes, professional members, the organization and staff."USA Gymnastics’ board was seated in June 2018 and inherited an organization in crisis with significant challenges that were years in the making. In the four months since, the Board has done everything it could to move this organization towards a better future. We immediately took steps to change the leadership and are currently conducting a search to find a CEO who can rebuild the organization and, most importantly, regain the trust of the gymnastics community. Substantial work remains — in particular, working with the plaintiffs and USA Gymnastics’ insurers to resolve the ongoing litigation as quickly as possible. We will continue to prioritize our athletes’ health and safety and focus on acting in the best interests of the greater gymnastics community.”

USOC Takes Action To Revoke USA Gymnastics' National Governing Body Status

Press release by UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE | NOV. 05, 2018, 5:08 P.M. (ET)

Veterans Biles, Hurd Lead The Way For Team USA Youngsters At Worlds

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Biles Completes Worlds Medal Haul, Mikulak Medals On Final Day In Qatar

Though Saturday marked the conclusion of the 2018 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, the final day of competition was nothing short of exciting. After winning bronze and gold medals on balance beam and floor exercise, respectively, Simone Biles increased her World medal count to 20, making her the most decorated female gymnast in World Championships history. She advanced to and medaled on every final possible, completing her Qatar medal haul with four golds, one silver, and one bronze.