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The real price of an Olympic medal: does a child need a big sport

I love watching the Olympics. Holiday atmosphere. The spirit of competition. The beauty of jumps, turns and other complex figures that athletes perform seems to be contrary to all the laws of physics. The joy of victories and pride in our athletes. And they shoot it today so beautifully: you seem to smell the snow, cool wind in your face at competitions of skiers and snowboarders, euphoria when an athlete realizes - now, it happened, “I am an Olympic champion!”.

The history of the Ukrainian figure skater, who moved to the United States, as well as how sports costs are rising and what to do if a sports career failed, Tatiana Vorozhko told in a blog for VOA.

Фото: Depositphotos

In the United States, for a short time - shortly before the start of the Olympics, during it and for some time after - the bright American winners become pop culture stars. For many Americans, the Olympics are a reminder that there are other sports besides American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. And that competitions are not only between university teams.

Despite the almost childish faces of athletes - many are 15-18 years old - I also think about how difficult it was for them at a very young age, about the injuries suffered, and especially about those children who trained as hard as these lucky ones, but - due to physiology, trauma or financial and other circumstances - they were forced to leave the sport, giving him their childhood.

Six-year-olds work 4 hours a day. Decades - 6-7 each

Among them is Vladislava Rybka from Kiev, the champion of Ukraine among juniors in pair figure skating in 2009 and 2010, who also trained and performed in the USA.

When she was two and a half years old, she was diagnosed with bronchitis with an asthmatic component, and the doctor advised, in addition to the course of treatment, climatotherapy - to breathe cold, moist air. “Yes, at the age of four we came to the rink,” says Natalya Shultz, researcher at the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at Georgetown University, who worked in Ukraine as a doctor and researcher at the Institute of Cardiology.

Health group first. We went to the skating rink 3-4 times a week. Although asthma subsided until the age of six, the sport did not leave. The child began to exercise for at least 4 hours a day with one day off. In addition to ice training - physical activities, ballet, rhythmic and classical dances, acrobatics.

“The better a child's results are, the more work they have to do. Four hours is no longer enough. If an athlete performs in competitions, then at the age of 10-11 he must practice for 6-7 hours a day. It is at the age of 6-10 that the most difficult work falls on a child, ”says Natalya.

Vlad did her homework in the car, in traffic jams, while her mother drove her from the center to Svyatoshino. We arrived, ate and sleep. In the morning - all over again.

Certain injuries occur in 99% young skaters

The requirements for young athletes today are so high, says Natalya, that the child's body, which is still growing, does not have time to adapt to the stress. The result is injury.

“Bundles do not have time to grow and are torn from chronic stress. The body does not have time to recover from workouts. There are micro and macrofractures of the muscles. The biggest problem that affects the 99% of all young skater athletes is the dystrophy of the cartilage surface of the joint, as there is not enough nutrients from the joints because of excessive work.

Vladislav Rybka with a partner in junior competitions. Photo: Voice of America

Also - the load on the spine. With every jump, the intervertebral discs suffer. Dysplasia occurs, that is, they are compressed, there is no longer a shock absorber gel between them, which, in turn, disrupts blood circulation, the vessels, nerve endings that go to all organs are compressed. During hard training, a large load falls on the cardiovascular system, causing working hypertrophy of the myocardium, and it is difficult to predict how these changes may end for a child who is still growing, ”says Natalia Shultz.

Worst of all, she says, girls compete in figure skating, because when she lands on the ice after her partner throws up, there is an additional pressure on the joints and ligaments, because a fall from a height is also added to her own body weight. Chronic injuries, says Natalia, are the biggest problem. After them it is more difficult to recover. According to Natalia, it is very important for parents of athletes to find a competent trainer who understands the physiology of the human body and will not force the child to do more than what the body is ready for.

Negative emotions also affect health, because judging in figure skating is not always fair. Also - a diet when a child is forced to count calories and deny himself all the time in goodies.

Vladislav Rybka with a partner in junior competitions. Photo: Voice of America

And all this costs a lot of money. If a child enters the national team, the Figure Skating Federation pays for the ice, that is, the time at the rink, says Natalya, and the figure skating, dance, acrobatics, masseur, etc. coaches have to pay all the time. In 2007-2008, she recalls, Vlada's classes cost 250-300 hryvnia per day ($ 50 - $ 60).

Figure skating classes in the USA at a high level - at least $ 2000 per week

Child figure skating became the basis for moving to the United States. Because of the financial crisis, the Federation began to reduce access to ice for athletes, and friend Rashid Kadirkaev, who was the champion of the USSR together with Elena Kvitchenko, invited trainers to train in Virginia Natalia and her daughter.
“First they came for the summer. Vlada studied from five in the morning to six in the evening. So, for two years in a row - in 2009 and 2010 - they won the championship of Ukraine in figure skating among juniors, ”says Natalia.

“We counted: with all the discounts that Rashid gave us, and given the fact that I myself did the massages and replaced the sports doctor, figure skating cost us two thousand dollars a week,” Natalya says. She says they could only afford to pay 2-3 months of training per year.
The United States is one of the few countries where there is no government support for the Olympic Games, let alone children's sports. Either parents pay for everything, or (if you are lucky to find them) - sponsors.

But it was in the USA that Vlada was seriously injured, and due to health problems and finding a partner on the ice, she was forced to leave the sport. Natalia and her daughter first moved to Michigan, where they found a partner and a new coach, and the couple even took second place in the prestigious competition Indy Challenge 2011. But during training, the partner stumbled and Vlada dropped her head on the ice, having received a concussion of the brain.

Then the mother and daughter returned to Virginia, but could not find a partner on the spot. Vlada began to practice solo skating, but after another injury to the spine, she was forced to leave the sport.

Today Vlada is studying at George Mason University. When joining her sporting achievements did not play any role.

Vladislav Rybka. Photo: Voice of America

“Do we wish that we did this at all? - Natalya argues. - I do not know. We didn't think about it then. They got involved. I always had to work out one more jump, prepare for another competition. Now she is watching the Olympics and I feel that she is in pain. At first, when I left figure skating, I didn't even want to talk about it. "

Hockey in the USA is not a game for the poor

If the University has a sports team for this sport, then the child's sports in the United States can pay off - if he receives a sports scholarship. But this is in a limited number of universities, in several sports, and if a young athlete is "seen" by the coach, there will be a place in the team.

My colleague, videographer Bruce Feder, spent $ 100 000 on his son's hockey lessons. When he was five, when he saw the hockey game, little Brendan caught fire.

“I went to the sports store, saw how much it all cost, and immediately left,” recalls Bruce. But when a sports arena was built next to their house, which became the main training place for the team Washington capitolsthey surrendered.

At first, it was necessary to pay for participation in the league and inexpensive outfit, but every year expenses grew, to which trips to competitions and fees were added.

If the skates for the 7-year-old child cost 125 dollars, then for the 15-year-old player of the junior hockey league you had to give at least 600 dollars. The annual fee for participating in the league has grown to a half thousand dollars. As a member of the team, Brandon traveled throughout the United States, to Canada, Europe, and even spent a week in Yekaterinburg (Russia) at a sports camp. The cost of hockey rose to 20 000 dollars per year.

The sports load also grew - from 3-4 times a week at the age of 7-9 years to 5-6 times a week at 16 and older.

Bruce and his wife are middle class. “But we have very generous grandparents. Good support system, he says. - Most of the parents of my son's teammates are very wealthy. I'm talking about millions. "

Contrary to plans, Brendan did not receive an invitation to play in a high-level hockey team at an American university. Today, he is studying business at the University of Denver, where training costs 63 000 dollars a year. If he had gone to a modest local college, education would have cost 90 000 dollars for all four years of study.

Injuries are common in many, but not all, sports, and their consequences remain with a person for a long time, if not forever.

In an article titled "The Dark Side of Youth Sport," Professor Rutgers University, former chief psychologist of the US Olympic Committee, Ph.D. Shane Murphy quotes the results of a study that revealed that 695 surveyed young athletes 39% suffered from bulimia. Every year, four million young athletes fall into the Department of Traumatology. The amount of damage to the joints due to excessive load is increasing. Even among schoolchildren, steroid use is common. So, a study among middle school students in Massachusetts determined that 2.7% of them were sitting on steroids.

And also - cases of sexual abuse of young athletes, as in the case of the gymnastics team Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse of more than 150 girls and women, which lasted for decades.

Positive aspects of children's sports

However, both Natalia and Bruce say that sports helped children to develop discipline, emotional stability, made them more mature than young people of their age. Psychiatrist Jim Taylor argues that children who play sports have higher IQs and also "learn important life skills such as hard work, patience, perseverance, and the ability to accept failure and failure." In team sports, children develop social skills, and in individual sports, internal motivation and independence.

I myself went in for swimming as a child. From 7 to 13 years old I trained 3 hours a day, 6 times a week. It was back in the Soviet Union, and my parents paid only for glasses. We were even given swimwear on the team. Fortunately, I chose a non-traumatic sport that helped me significantly improve my health. Until the age of seven, I often suffered from pneumonia. And when I went to the pool, I didn't miss a day at school due to illness, only because of participation in competitions. Sport helped me develop self-confidence, independence, willpower and organizational skills - when 3 hours a day is spent only on training - and you still have to walk to the pool, change clothes, dry your hair - then you do everything else much faster and more efficiently.

Children's sports play an important social role. It gives guys - and girls, too, what to hide - the chance to release aggression, use excessive energy, learn to interact with teammates. Even in individual sports, there are relay races and joint trips to competitions. For children from poor families, this can be a social lift. For the rich - the opportunity to choose their own path, to find socialization outside of elite schools and families. It gives children confidence in themselves and new friends, as well as - the joy of competition, the euphoria of victories and the ability to accept defeat and be happy for partners.

The fashion for sports for children - inspired by famous athletes and favorite teams - is much better than fashion for semi-criminal behavior or sitting for hours in front of a computer screen.

I hope that I will help my son to develop a love for sports, competitive spirit and an active lifestyle. There are no medals and sporting victories at international competitions among our priorities. In the meantime, I’m watching the Winter Olympics, realizing what the sacrifices were made by the participants, their parents and all those who did not make it into the national teams.

Column posted on blogs Ukrainian service Голоса America.

Published with permission of the author and publication.

ForumDaily is not responsible for the content of blogs and may not share the views of the author. If you want to become a column author, send your materials to

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