[I]’s not a sport for grown-ups. Pubescent girls can perform at levels that no mature woman can hope to match, and the petite physique type which is ideal for women’s gymnastics is ideal in no other sport....
Responsible adulthood, however, requires us to resist the mindless consumption of whatever TV is selling, and “Olympic fever” is a made-for-TV commodity whose value should be viewed skeptically.
If there is to be a competition to determine which nation has the most highly-skilled diminutive adolescent girls, it is my patriotic duty to hope that America wins the contest. But I reserve the right to observe that this is a freakishly weird thing to compete over.I remember when this topic came up at the 1988 Olympics, and I opined about it in a letter to the NYT:
In ''Gymnastic Girls, Not Women'' (Topics, Aug. 1), you suggest there should be a separate competitive category for women in gymnastics, similar to the senior players' tour in golf. The notion that women past the 17-year-old mark resemble seniors should give us pause and make us examine some of the underlying problems in gymnastics, which reflect generally prevailing assumptions about women.
According to your characterization, the maturation process for a woman is from nimble, able girl to woman encumbered by a full-grown body. Yet for a man, to mature is to move from undeveloped boy, who ''would find it impossible to compete,'' to a man fully empowered with ''upper-body strength.''
It seems to me the sport is structured to favor girls and men, perhaps because our society favors ever-young women, particularly very slim ones, and well-muscled men, good-looking at any age. Are we not bombarded with images of these ideal types everywhere? We like to see tiny teen-age girls jumping all over the place like magical fairies. But we don't want to see any little boys doing the same. Please, keep them out of view until their bodies convey a message of masculine power. And we don't even want to think about a woman gymnast with strongly muscled shoulders and arms. Of course, this well-developed, powerful woman would not fit into the sport, not because she is encumbered by her body and needs a second-class category, but because the sport is designed to exclude her. She has no opportunity to perform on the equipment the well-developed men display their strength on, like parallel bars and rings.
And perhaps those men's bodies would ''encumber'' them on the balance beam and the uneven bars that young girls take to so well. If men's gymnastics covered that equipment, maybe we'd get to see the little boys perform.