Fixing the Olympic Age Dilemma

By | August 24, 2008
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Way back in the ancient times of 2001, sports fans, analysts, and innocent bystanders were captivated by the accomplishments of Danny Almonte, a lanky left-handed Little League pitcher from the Bronx. Almonte dominated Little League competition as no other pitcher had nor possibly will ever do again.

Unfortunately, the Danny Almonte success story was too good to be true. After a brief investigation, the Little League powers that be found out Almonte violated the maximum age requirement for entry in the Little League World Series. Instead of 12, Almonte was actually 14, an age that gave him a physical advantage over his younger competition.

Seven years later, the sports headlines have again been strife with stories about age requirements and the possibility of cheating. This time, however, instead of the competitors being too old, as was the case with Almonte, many were claiming members of the Chinese gymnastics team were too young to compete. Whereas Olympic rules state a competitor must be at least 16, rumors have continued that gymnast He Kexin is only 14.

I found irony in the fact that both of these age-vulnerable events have been televised often simultaneously over the last few weeks. Fitting as well that both finished on the same day. In my opinion, the problems of these pinnacles of amateur competition* can easily be solved with some creative thinking.

* I would argue that the Little League World Series is rivaled only by the NCAA tournament as the most intense non-professional sporting event in the U.S. And of course the Olympic Games are the zenith of all amateur athletic competition.

While some claim that we should do away with age restrictions in the Olympics, I think the opposite. The International Olympic Committee should create age divisions in certain sports such as gymnastics, swimming, and baseball. This would reduce the pressure of cheating to get certain athletes with “springier” bodies in the games. These categories would also lengthen the careers of Olympic stars that may be too old to compete in their sports by the time they are in their mid-20s.

As for baseball, I think every four years the Little League World Series should be included in the Summer Games and played in the hosting Olympic city. This would make the Little League World Series a truly global event and would raise its prestige to epic proportions. Granted, it would take the “community” feel away from the Williamsport-hosted games, but it would provide possibly the biggest thrill for Little Leaguers across the world. And fair is fair, if a 14-year old can compete in the Olympics (not saying that they do currently, but they have in the past), then shouldn’t 12-year old be medal-eligible as well?

Imagine their excitement as the Little League World Series winners not only receive a trophy for the best Little League team, but also gold medals for best under-14 baseball players in the world.

(Of course, this is only possible with the aforementioned age categories. Anyone who thinks a 12-year old kid could play on the same baseball field as a grown man is just foolish. Even if that kid is the second coming of Danny Almonte. Yet for some reason it’s ok to have 14-year old girls compete with 20-something year old women in gymnastics. Maybe the IOC likes the idea that they can legally oogle little girls every four years.)

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One thought on “Fixing the Olympic Age Dilemma

  1. MCBias

    I liked the idea at first, Jordi. But then I realized that there would still be cheating, only the form of it would change. For example, the “over-20″ league would always be won by 21-year-olds, just like the Senior PGA winners tend to be the guys who are 50-55 years of age. Or, 19-year-olds would pretend to be 21 so they could enter the “easier” competition in the upper-level league. So I’m not so sure it would improve everything.

    Still, I wish it would work. I’m tired of watching under-age/over-age manipulation, especially when it means that more worthy athletes are pushed out of their spots.

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