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1996: The Age Limit is Increased

(The Biggest Controversies in Olympic Gymnastics)

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1996: The Age Limit is Increased

Dominique Moceanu performs a Shaposhnikova on bars at the 1996 Olympics

© Mike Powell / Getty Images
After the 1996 Olympics, the International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) officially raised the age limit in gymnastics from age 15 to 16. (A gymnast must reach this age by the end of the Olympic year, so, for example, a gymnast born any date in 1992 was eligible for the 2008 Games).

Though a year age difference may not seem like much, many coaches and gymnasts strongly opposed the age increase. Their argument? In women's gymnastics, many athletes peak at about age 15 or 16. If the limit had been 16 in 1976, Nadia Comaneci would not have had her historic Olympic performance (she was 14), and other athletes such as Dominique Moceanu (age 14 at the 1996 Olympics), Svetlana Boguinskaya (15 in 1988), and Kerri Strug (age 14 in 1992) would have all been ineligible to compete. Comaneci and Moceanu reached the pinnacle of their sport before their 16th year, and by moving up the age limit, many felt that the FIG was making it that much more difficult for female gymnasts – often with very short careers – to make it to the Olympics.

Others supported the age limit, saying it would be safer for the athletes to compete at a more advanced age, and that coaches would not have to push their gymnasts at a young age in order to reach the elite level by their early teens. Since 1997, the age limit has remained at 16, and current FIG president Bruno Grandi has even talked about increasing it further, to age 18.

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The age limit continued to prove controversial in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Find out more.

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