Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fact Checking Bruno Grandi: Is 18 Old?



In his latest interview, Bruno Grandi said:

"Secondly, the great drama of our sport is the age question. If you rob a female athlete of all hope of ever making the national team when she is just 13 or 14, if 18-year-olds are considered old – and there are only a few exceptions – what hope is there?"

Sometimes, listening to Bruno Grandi is like listening to Salvador DalĂ­. It's a surrealist experience during which you never know quite what he's saying, but it all sounds important. Amidst his latest gobbledygook, I managed to grasp one idea: 18 is old.

Which surprised me because the gymternet has been inundated with talk about old farts. Last year, Dvora Meyers wrote an article for the Atlantic called "The Rise (and Fall?) of the Little Girl Gymnast," and there's a website dedicated entirely to adult gymnastics. Plus, Oksana Chusovitina has become a veritable gymternet hero. Everything seems to be telling me that 18 is not old!

But maybe my perception has been warped. Maybe I have been drinking the old fart Kool-Aid (AKA pinot grigio). Maybe 18 is old after all.

With my interest piqued, I decided to make some spreadsheets. 'Cause that's what normal people do when their boyfriends are away for the weekend, right? They fact check Bruno Grandi on their Saturday evenings.

Hmm… I need a new hobby…




To fact check Bruno Grandi's statement, I decided to look at the World and Olympic podiums from 1997 to 2012, and I looked to see what the typical age of a medalist was. Unfortunately, since I'm a lazy fafo (the gay version of mofo), I did calculations only for the individual medalists--not for the team medalists. Sorry.

Here's what I found.


YearCompetitionMedian Age on
Day 1 of the
Competition
1997
Worlds
17 years, 6 months
1999
Worlds
17 years
2000
Olympics
18 years, 1 month
2001
Worlds
18 years
2002
Worlds
16 years, 10 months
2003
Worlds
17 years, 6 months
2004
Olympics
17 years, 3 months
2005
Worlds
17 years, 11 months
2006
Worlds
17 years, 1 month
2007
Worlds
16 years, 8 months
2008
Olympics
18 years, 5 months
2009
Worlds
17 years, 3 months
2010
Worlds
18 years, 8 months
2011
Worlds
17 years, 4 months
2012
Olympics
19 years, 2 months
Median of the 
Medians

17 years, 6 months

If you're more of a visual person, here's a chart:




Welp, a simple fact check snowballed, and I came out on the other side with 5 takeaways:



1. Be wary of Olympic numbers

The ages of the Olympians do not give us a good idea of what has happened during the quad. Why? During the Olympic year, the numbers typically skew a little higher, which is to be expected. The gymnasts from the pre-Olympics Worlds typically stick around, and they frequently find themselves on the podium. 44% of all-around medalists at the Worlds prior to the Olympics end up medaling at the Olympics, and when they do, they are roughly 1 year older.


2. During the next quad, we need to pay attention to age.

The last quad was funky.

As you can see, the median age became somewhat erratic from 2009 to 2012. It went down, then up, then down, then up again. The end result was a median age of 18 years for the last quad. That's slightly higher than the overall median age from 1997 to 2012. (17 years, 6 months).

I'm not certain why last quad's median rose ever-so slightly. It could be because some of the top programs like Romania were struggling this past quad, and they had to rely on veterans like Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa at the Olympics. It could be because specialists have more opportunities now, which means that unique human specimens like Oksana Chusovitina, Beth Tweddle, and Alicia Sacramone can have a viable career later in life. I'm not exactly sure, but if you have other theories, leave a comment below.

I, for one, am curious to see what will happen over the next 4 years, but I'm hesitant to say that the typical individual medalist is indubitably getting older. The last quad could have been somewhat exceptional. We will have to wait and see.


3. 18 is not old.

Is 18 old? Oh, yeah, that was my original question.

The answer depends on how you look at the numbers. We can look at things from a quadrennial perspective. As I stated above, from 2009 to 2012, 18 was the median age. In other words, during the last quad, 18 was not old by any means. In fact, it was quite normal.

You can also look at the numbers from a more longitudinal perspective, and when you do that, a different picture emerges. Since 1997, when the age limit was raised from 15 to 16, the middle-of-the-road age has been 17.5.

Now, you don't have to hold a PhD in statistics to know that 18 is not too far from 17.5. So, I think it's safe to say that, over the last 15 years or so, 18 year-olds have been on the older side, but I'd resist saying that the 18-year-olds are old. There have been plenty of gymnasts older than they. (See more below!)



4. If gymnasts of all ages could compete, 17.5 probably wouldn't be the median age.

That's a tough question to answer because in order to really test it, I would have to create an experiment of some sort. Unfortunately, doing so would cut into my vintage Youtube watching time, which is just not an option. So, you're going to have to deal with this answer:

When 15 was the minimum age requirement (from 1981 to 1997), the median age was roughly a full year lower.

YearCompetitionMedian Age on
Day 1 of the
Competition
1981*
Worlds
16 years, 6 months
1983
Worlds
15 years, 8 months
1984
Olympics
17 years, 6 months
1985
Worlds
16 years, 2 months
1987
Worlds
15 years, 11 months
1988
Olympics
16 years, 4 months
1989
Worlds
16 years, 7 months
1991
Worlds
16 years, 2 months
1992
Worlds
15 years, 10 months
1993
Worlds
16 years, 5 months
1994**
Worlds
16 years, 6 months
1995
Worlds
16 years, 2 months
1996
Olympics
18 years
Median of the
Medians

16 years, 2 months
*I could not find Chen Wenyan's birthdate, so this data point is not complete. If you happen to have their birthdays, please leave a comment below, and I'll update the charts.
**I could not find Luo Li's birthday. Again, if you know her birthday, please leave a comment below. (FYI, she's not Lu Li.)

So, it would seem that if we lowered the minimum age requirement, the median age would drop, as well.

But, but, but the sport has changed since 1996!

No doubt it has. But we do have some limited data from recent years. If you might recall, 15 year-olds were allowed to compete at the 1999, 2003, and 2007 World Championships in preparation for the Olympics. In 1999, the median age was 17--lower than normal. In 2003, the median age was 17 years, 6 months--smack in the middle. And in 2007, the median age of the individual medalists was 16 years, 8 months--the lowest median age at a World Championships or Olympic Games since 1997!

In case you're not noticing the trend, when the age limit has been 15 rather than 16, the numbers have tended to skew on the younger side of things. So, if I had to speculate, I'd guess that the median age would drop if the FIG lowered the age requirement again.



5. 1999 was the beginning of a new era for 20-year-old medalists.

Bruno Grandi said that 18 is old and that there are very few exceptions. Well, since I'm one of those annoying skeptics who has to verify almost everything in life, I wanted to see if my pal Bruno was right or not. So, I created a list of gymnasts who won individual World or Olympic medals when they were 19 or older.


The 19+ Club for World and Olympic Individual Medals


GymnastYearAgePlace
Maria Filatova
1981
20 years, 4 months
Elena Davydova
1981
20 years, 3 months
Steffi Kraker
1981
21 years, 7 months
Maxi Gnauck
1983
19 years
Ma Yanhong
1984
20 years, 4 months
Kathy Johnson
1984
24 years, 10 months
Ecaterina Szabo
1987
20 years, 8 months
Elena Shushunova
1988
19 years, 4 months
Diana Doudeva
1988
20 years, 2 months
Lavinia Milosovici
1996
19 years, 9 months
Shannon Miller
1996
19 years, 4 months
Dominique Dawes
1996
19 years, 8 months
Gina Gogean
1997
19 years, 11 months
Simona Amanar
1999
20 years, 1 month
Svetlana Khorkina
1999
20 years, 8 months
Simona Amanar
2000
20 years, 11 months
Liu Xuan
2000
21 years, 6 months
Svetlana Khorkina
2000
21 years, 7 months
Elena Produnova
2000
20 years, 7 months
Svetlana Khorkina
2001
22 years, 9 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2001
26 years, 4 months
Ludmila Ezhova
2001
19 years, 7 months
Elena Zamolodchikova
2002
20 years, 2 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2002
27 years, 5 months
Ludmila Ezhova
2002
20 years, 8 months
Svetlana Khorkina
2003
24 years, 6 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2003
28 years, 1 month
Elena Zamolodchikova
2003
20 years, 10 months
Ludmila Ezhova
2003
21 years, 5 months
Daiane Dos Santos
2003
20 years, 6 months
Svetlana Khorkina
2004
25 years, 6 months
Annia Hatch
2004
26 years, 2 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2005
30 years, 5 months
Beth Tweddle
2005
20 years, 7 months
Suzanne Harmes
2005
19 years, 10 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2006
31 years, 3 months
Beth Tweddle
2006
21 years, 6 months
Cheng Fei
2007
19 years, 3 months
Alicia Sacramone
2007
19 years, 8 months
Hong Un Jong
2008
19 years, 5 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2008
33 years, 1 month
Cheng Fei
2008
20 years, 2 months
Ariella Kaeslin
2009
22 years
Beth Tweddle
2009
24 years, 6 months
Alicia Sacramone
2010
22 years, 10 months
Jade Barbosa
2010
19 years, 3 months
Beth Tweddle
2010
25 years, 6 months
Lauren Mitchell
2010
19 years, 2 months
Oksana Chusovitina
2011
36 years, 3 months
Phan Thi Ha Thanh
2011
19 years, 11 months
Huang Qiushuang
2011
19 years, 4 months
Sui Lu
2011
19 years, 6 months
Ksenia Afanasyeva
2011
20 years
Sandra Izbasa
2012
22 years, 1 month
He Kexin
2012
20 years, 6 months
Beth Tweddle
2012
27 years, 3 months
Deng Linlin
2012
20 years, 3 months
Sui Lu
2012
20 years, 3 months
Catalina Ponor
2012
24 years, 11 months

Click on the links to watch the routines!


Or if you like things to be more visual:



So, to recap:


Bruno Grandi is wrong. 
18 is not old at this moment in gymnastics history.
Dixi.

7 comments:

  1. Cheng Fei was also 3rd Beam in 2008 (interestingly, her only international beam medal). Obviously I'm nitpicking, it's a fantastic article :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked Uncle Tim a lot more when he just blogged about MAG without the WAG.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. I really wish he'd bring his primers on pommel horse and rings back and write more about the other MAG events. There are enough WAG blogs on the internet. The reason I loved Uncle Tim is because he was basically the only MAG one on here. I wish he'd bring it back.

      Delete
    2. This blog has always been about helping WAG fans understand MAG, and believe it or not, writing about WAG has generated more interest in my MAG posts. So, I'm still accomplishing the goal--just in a different way.

      That said, don't worry! After Worlds, there will be a LONG, LONG period when NOTHING happens in elite gymnastics. That's when the primers come out.

      Delete
  3. Please never stop these posts. It makes my day.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Here I shared a short biography of Oksana... hope you like it. Oksana Chusovitina

    ReplyDelete