Gould Off the Mark with Olympic Age-Limit Comments

By John Lohn

CRANBURY, New Jersey, February 3. OH, Shane. You couldn't have kept quiet? Couldn't have bit your bottom lip? Couldn't have kept yourself from sounding foolish? Instead, you had to use your experiences to make an absurd statement about the biggest sporting event in the world: The Olympics.

For those unaware of what shook place less than a week ago, Australian legend Shane Gould went public with the idea that the Olympic Games should impose a participation age limit of 18. That's right, no competition for anyone under that age, even if the athlete happens to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

That Gould expressed those sentiments can be traced to her personal experiences. After winning five medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Gould left the sport a year later as a 16-year-old. Her decision to hop out of the competitive waters was related to intense pressure by the Australian public.

"Anyone under 18 I don't think should be allowed to go to the Olympics," she said. "They can be used. Sport to me I think has gone in an unhealthy direction and I think it has to be constantly reviewed. Sport is now commerce. I think junior sport is over-organized and they're (children) not being able to play and explore. Let kids be kids."

To be fair to Gould, her argument about athletics being commerce is, to an extent, on target. Big-time money is raised in sports, and the Olympic Games are at the top of the list of money-making events. Just look at the television contracts that have been signed in recent years. But, what Gould failed to look at was the fact that teenage athletes, particularly in swimming, have long been part of the Olympic fabric.

If Gould had her way, recent Olympiads would have been missing the likes of Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps and Amanda Beard – just to name a few. Those athletes, aside from winning gold medals, have gone on to promote the sport in a major way and have also benefited financially from their talents. Seems here that setting themselves up for the future is a pretty good thing.

Gould left the sport under pressure, and there's no doubt that teenage athletes will feel heat, at varying levels, from the media and their country. But, because pressure wasn't for Shane Gould doesn't give her the right to provide insight for everyone else. Heck, Katie Hoff had a rough go at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, collapsing on deck due to nerves after her prelim of the 400 individual medley. A few years later, and still a teen, Hoff seems to have rebounded nicely from her fight with pressure.

As part of her argument, Gould suggested that young swimmers miss out on being a kid due to the demands of training. True enough, high-level training does dent the social-life calendar to an extent. But, there's also no reason youngsters can't enjoy both worlds and find time to go to the movies or to the mall, especially if their parents see to it that a proper balance is found.

In her remarks, Shane Gould was looking out for children, and it's commendable that she cares. But, there's no reason young swimmers can't keep their childhood and the Olympics, the greatest sporting event on earth, shouldn't be deprived of rising talent.