Told they're too young, several key skaters will be absent at this week's figure skating world championships.
All three women on the Russian national podium, American women's champion Alyssa Liu and Canadian national silver medallist Stephen Gogolev won't compete in Saitama, Japan due to age restriction.
Gogolev, having just turned 14 in December, won't be eligible for worlds until 2021. Liu, 13, will have to wait until 2022. Under the ISU rule, a skater must have turned 15 before July 1 of the previous year to be eligible for worlds.
The rule was put in place with the idea that young bodies are not prepared for the constant stress of the number of difficult jumps, amongst other elements, required on the world stage. Skate Canada released a statement supporting the rule, saying its "satisfied with the system we have in place and how it aligns with our long-term athlete development model."
With the obligation of guiding figure skating in this country, Skate Canada's approach that errs on the side of caution is entirely in keeping with the philosophies of today.
Results take a toll
We are in the midst of a bumper crop of talented teens and, selfishly, I'll admit that I'm sorry I won't see them do battle on the world stage in Saitama. I say selfishly because it has been determined that the kind of stress found in figure skating and imposed on bodies that have not finished growing isn't healthy. Wanting to see them compete would be strictly to satisfy my own curiosity which, frankly, isn't reason enough to put anyone at risk.
Louis Stong, the former coach of world champions Kurt Browning and pairs team Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, disagrees with the ISU's age restriction.
"I say if you're good enough to go, you should go. I never had to deal with [the age restrictions] and I am glad I didn't because it would have been very frustrating for me."
Still, Stong acknowledges that there could be bigger developmental things at play. In 2004, Canada saw Cynthia Phaneuf, a relative newcomer, take the national title. She was then bypassed for senior worlds and sent to the junior circuit.
WATCH | Gogolev vaults into 5th at world juniors with free program:
"If I was the coach of Gogolev, I might think that maybe junior worlds is where he should be going in the natural progression of his skating career," said Stong. "To have to suddenly to jump up to senior with all of the pressure and expectations, and when he is still has so much to learn, might not be the best thing for him long-term."
"Winning or losing carries with it some great lessons for a skater."
It doesn't stop me from thinking about the age question, however.
Shrinking gap between young and old skaters
Browning, the four-time world champion, says the teens taking over their national podiums should be given the chance to go international.
"How do we halt the human spirit and inclination to push ourselves? Kids like to run and jump and turn four times in the air," said Browning.
That's the crux of the matter for me. When junior-aged skaters like Russian phenom Alexandra Trusova and Liu are routinely performing quads and triple axels on the same level as older skaters, is it time to re-visit the age issue? Do we need to clarify from what we are trying to protect the athletes?
WATCH | Trusova wins world junior gold:
Maybe it's time to look at and restrict what skaters are attempting at what age, rather than simply using birthdays as the barometer for competition.
"I would come back to why?," said Stong. "If this is where they are at in their development, and each skater is different, and this is the stuff that they are doing and in some cases are national champions or medallists, let's leave them to it. There are people and coaches who are watching them every day and guiding their careers."
Injuries remain factor
With advancements in training techniques and injury prevention, it's getting easier to make sure skaters stay healthy. Still, injuries can still sideline a skater with potential if their training is not properly managed.
According to UR Medicine, "impact at landing generates deceleration forces measuring up to 100 Gs in adolescent skaters. This phenomenal force is transmitted throughout the lower extremity contacting the ice and axial skeleton and is the main contributor to the host of injuries sustained in figure skating."
That's a lot for a young body to cope with.
In a perfect world, where training is managed and skaters are healthy, I still come back to "what if."
"Ability to cope all comes down to experience but by the time a skater like a Gogolev gets to where he is at this point, he has come through a bunch of hurdles already," said Stong. "Dealing with failure as well as success is all part of the process. Perseverance is one of the qualities needed to become a champion."
For the moment, this generation of young skaters is worth the wait.