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Minimum age for senior international competition figure skating raised to 17 after Kamila Valieva Winter Olympics controversy

Figure skaters at the 2026 Olympics will be required to be at least 17 years old following a ruling aimed at protecting child skaters from a repeat of the controversy that engulfed Russia’s 15-year-old Kamila Valieva at the Beijing Games.

The new age limit for figure skaters at senior international events was passed on Tuesday by the International Skating Union (ISU) in a 110-16 vote.

“This is a very important decision,” ISU president Jan Dijkema said.

“I would say a very historic decision.”

The move will put an end to a long history of very young medallists in women’s figure skating at the Games.

There have been nine female figure skating champions at the Winter Games aged either 15 or 16, and five other medallists aged 15.

The youngest women’s champions have been Germany’s Maxi Herber, who won in pairs in 1936 at the age of 15 years and 128 days, Russia’s Yulia Lipnitskaya, who won in the team event in Sochi in 2014 at 15 years and 249 days, and American Tara Lipinski, who took the singles gold medal in Pyeongchang four years later while aged 15 years and 255 days.

The youngest-ever figure skater to win an Olympic medal was Scott Allen of the United States, who was a bronze medallist in Innsbruck in 1964. He was 14 years and 363 days old.

The new limit will be phased in, with 15-year-olds continuing to be allowed to compete next season, before the minimum age is raised to 16 in the 2023-24 season and 17 the season after, which is the last before the next Olympics.

The ISU said the new rule was “for the sake of protecting the physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing of the skaters”.

Valieva was the favorite to take individual gold in Beijing after helping the Russians win the team title, before her positive doping test from December was belatedly revealed during the Olympics.

Kamila Valieva was the favorite to take individual gold in Beijing before her positive doping test.(Anadolu Agency/Getty Images: Nikolay Muratkin)

The teenager was allowed to train under intense scrutiny as a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing was prepared that allowed her to compete pending the full investigation in Russia. That is ongoing.

However, her main routine was filled with errors and she dropped to fourth place. She was then criticized rink-side by her coach, Eteri Tutberidze.

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The ISU drafted an age-limit proposal saying “burnout, disordered eating, and long-term consequences of injury” were a risk to young teenage skaters, who are pushed to perform more quadruple jumps.

The decision was criticized in Russia, where skaters are currently banned by the ISU from international competitions because of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

“I think it was done to more or less even out the competition, so that our Russian female skaters couldn’t have the opportunity to win world championship, European, Olympic medals,” Dmitri Soloviev, a team event gold medallist for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, told broadcaster Match TV.

“But in my opinion Eteri Tutberidze will find a way to get our athletes into ideal condition at the age of 17 or 18,” Soloviev said.

“[Then] they can show their best results at international competitions at that age in particular.”

PA

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