Michael Phelps is old. He hasn’t even reached 30 and he’s considered old. At 27, he’s 10 years senior to some of his swimming teammates and competitors. The golden girl of 2012 Olympic swimming, Missy Franklin, is a decade younger than Phelps. Missy Franklin’s accomplishments this year include getting her driver’s license, having her braces taken off and beating out Emily Seebohm of Australia for her first gold medal on a back-to-back swim night. Seebohm is only 20 years old, but she’s an Olympic veteran compared to Franklin and was bested nevertheless.
Of the “Fierce Five” Olympic gold medal women’s gymnastics team, only Alexandra Raisman is of age. The rest include Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney, both 16, Jordyn Wieber, 17, and the baby Kyla Ross, 15. The rule in gymnastics is that a competitor must be turning 16 the year the Olympics takes place.
The dominance of youth at the Olympic Games does not come without controversy. During the Beijing Olympics, He Kexin’s age was the center of scandal. There were two birth certificates, one that put He’s birth year in 1992 (age 16 in 2008) and the other 1994 (age 14 in 2008). But even if He was 16 at the time of the Beijing Olympics, there’s still controversy over whether a young athlete should be under such pressure.
Thirty-hour-a-week workouts, possibly moving away from home and dropping out of public school are routine for elite Olympic hopefuls. Mental and physical pressures are a major concern for these young champions. But if you ask them if it was all worth it, after that Olympic medal, they all say something to the effect of “hell yes.” The Olympics are ruled by the youth.
Youth prevalence all started at the opening ceremonies. There was huge speculation about who would carry the final torch and light the Olympic cauldron. Usually the honor goes to an Olympic alumnus, a person from the host country who exemplifies the Olympic spirit and tradition. But this year no one knew the names of the seven final torch carriers, and it wasn’t because they were English. The seven bearers had never won an Olympic medal and had never even qualified, but one day they would. As the NBC announcers explained the bearers are “representing the next generation of athletes and possible Olympians.”
The “next generation” is usually a phrase reserved for politicians to make grave remarks about the state of the world. “We need to be environmentally conscious so the next generation has a world to live in.” “Fixing the economy will be a problem for the next generation” “The job market is slim for the next generation.” “We need to get the next generation interested in science” And as part of this so-called “next generation,” I am sick of being reminded just how screwed over we got. I appreciate the older generation finally giving something back to the generation that needs to become game changers in the next 20 years, but they have already changed the Olympic Games.
Jesse Klein is a LSA sophomore.