Historical Trends in the Size of US Olympic Female Artistic Gymnasts

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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The lay press, scientists, and physicians appear to believe that gymnasts are continually getting smaller and that their “smallness” is a health risk.

Purpose:

To assess the historical changes in the size and age of the US women’s Olympic gymnastics teams from 1956 to 2008.

Methods:

The official records from the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics of Olympic team members were assessed at 2 levels: individual height, mass, age, and body-mass index (BMI) and the team performance scores and rankings. Fourteen Olympic teams with a total of 106 team members, including the alternates, were included. Trend analyses were conducted using linear and polynomial models.

Results:

Simple linear correlations indicated that since 1956, height, mass, age, BMI, and team Olympic rank have been declining. However, second-order polynomial curve fits indicated that in the last 4 Olympic Games the members of the US women’s gymnastics teams have been getting larger.

Conclusion:

Women Olympic gymnasts were getting smaller through approximately the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then the size of these gymnasts has increased. The minimum-age rule modifications may have played a role in athlete size changes along with a shift from the near dominance of the former communist Eastern Bloc.

Sands and Stone are with the Dept of Exercise and Sport Science, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN. Murray is with the Dept of Kinesiology, Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction, CO. Slater is with the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, University of Texas, Austin, TX. McNeal is with the Dept of Physical Education, Health, and Recreation, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA.