Figure Skating Drama: Adults’ Ambitions Can Kill Kids’ Health

Health Policy Brief #147 | By: Yelena Korshunov | February 25, 2022

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Russian Skater Breaks Down After Missing Gold in Kamila Valieva Final

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Policy Summary

Sport is beautiful, isn’t it? Many of us enjoy watching the Olympic games on TV.  Mastery of fascinating figure skating and graceful rhythmic gymnastics enchant us. But what happens behind the curtain? What price do these gracious young teenagers in a big sport pay to meet adults’ ambitions?  After Kamila Valieva, Russian teen figure skater, was cleared to participate in the Games despite testing positive for a banned drug, she finished fourth in the women’s individual figure skating competition at the Beijing Olympics.

An issue that followed her performance was shocking.  “Why did you stop fighting?” Valieva’s trainer, Eteri Tutberidze, rudely spat in the teen’s face, chilling every single one who heard it.  Even the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, spoke out.  “I must say I was very disturbed yesterday when I watched the competition on television,” he said. “First in her performance, how high the pressure must have been on her (Valieva). I know from my athlete time a little bit about pressure. But this pressure is beyond my imagination, in particular for a girl of 15 years old.”

We also watched the silver medallist, Alexandra Trusova, crying after her beautiful performance: “Everyone has a gold medal, everyone, but not me. I hate skating. I hate it. I hate this sport. I will never skate again. Never.” Isn’t the price for Olympic medals too high, especially for teenagers whose fragile psyche is in an acute time of its development?

Even for an average child, serious sport activities are risky despite all the precautions and attention given by supervisors. According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports in the US, and more than 3.5 million injuries each year, which cause some loss of time of participation, are experienced by the participants. Sports and recreational activities contribute to approximately 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among American children. 

You can just imagine how high is the injury rate for children and teenagers in a big sport and how many talented children lost their health somewhere on the way to great achievements. We will never hear their names. This is a price that they pay for adults’ ambitions. Much worse is when a child’s psyche is destroyed by an adult’s inattention, indifference, or even rude accusations, that a multi-million TV audience has recently witnessed.

Policy Analysis

For most girls, their body begins to change at the age of 13-15. They gain weight, their shape changes, and a hormonal shift also affects their psychology. For many skaters, their careers end at this point and they never move into adult sports. By this age, if they are well prepared, they can jump three quads or even quadruple jumps per performance. Then nature will take its toll, and this same girl will not be able to jump quads at all. These well-prepared teens are a temporary triumph of trainers like Eteri Tutberidze that throw them to the scrapyard when their body starts puberty. That recently happened to Evgenia Medvedeva, Alina Zagitova, and Julia Lipnitskaya. 

Their starring career lasts a year or two before they become forgotten. Isn’t it unfair? I once spoke to a mom of a young transparently slender girl who dreamed about her daughter’s starry career in rhythmic gymnastics. The girl is 11, but she has already been on a strict diet for years. Nobody cares about the healthy growth and puberty of this child. “One day she will be a star,” confidently states her mom. Who else, if not parents and trainers, should care about the health and safety of these kids?

“Benefits of Youth Sports,”report developed by the PCSFN (President’s Council of Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition) in 2020, shows that participating in youth sports can lead to immediate and long-term benefits for youth, their families, and communities. 

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Many young people who pursue sports have a strong self-concept and are very goal driven. These positive qualities can carry over into the classroom.

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According to the PCSFN’s findings, 73 percent of parents believe that sports benefit their child’s mental health. And they are right! 88 percent of parents believe that sports benefit their child’s physical health. 55 percent of parents believe that sports will benefit their children academically and improve their future careers. 80 percent of parents believe that sports helped their child learn about discipline and dedication, as well as how to get along with others. Research supports these beliefs. 

73 percent of adults who play sports participated when they were younger. This means they built the habit of physical activity early and are reaping the rewards in adulthood. Lifelong participation in sports can also lead to improved mental health outcomes.

Look how thin the border is, how much kids can benefit from doing sports and how fatally it can ruin their lives.  

It’s in our power to create healthy sports for children, without enormous pressure and ambitious expectations that harm kids’ physical and mental health, but rather with support and encouragement that will make them happy.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

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List of Kids Sports


All About Sports for Children’s Health


Play More Than One Youth Sport for Better Mental Health

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