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Women Gymnast: I'm VERY Confused!


Above is a picture of the perennial powerhouse The University of Utah Women's Gymnastics Team.

If you see these guys (and other College Teams) in person, most are ripped, muscular women, who could put a lot of guys on this site to shame with their strength and agility.

Compare them to the pre-pubescent, pixie-like appearing (albeit strong and agile) Olympic Level gymnast, (China appears to have taken it to the extreme);and I began to wonder about the difference in training, approach and differences between the Olympic and College "Levels"?


1) Does one take different "tracts" (College vs. International Competition) with a decision made VERY early in ones career? (the average Olympians age is about 16-18, with the average College Gymnast most likely being too "old" for the Olympics).

2) Is Olympic and International Competition open to any and all; or are you "invited" by the U.S. Gymnastics Olympic governing body to compete for spots on the Team?

(There are literally THOUSANDS of gymnast out there, with many competing on the College Level).

3) It seems to be more than age that accounts for the often "pixie-like" appearance of the Olympian compared to the average College competitor. Is there a difference in training philosophy between the two "tracts"?

Thanks, guys! I hope there is someone familiar with Women's Gymnastics who can give a little insight on this interesting Sport!



A good friends sister, missed out on both the Australian Commonwealth team and Olympic teams by one position, from there she was snapped up by a collage in San Diago.
As far as I'm aware, at least in Australia, they compete in events etc and if they are good enough or thought to have the potential they are selected to join the Australian Institued of Sports which fields our olmypic teams. From there they are selected for the teams if they meet the standards and current needs for the team.

The decision to train seriously would be made early, where it takes you (olympic or college) would become more aparent over time due to your ability and dedication.

On a side note I have to say these girls have to be some of the toughest people around, I've seen some crashes on un-even bars and the beam that would just flatten people for days, but these girls are bouncing back up and trying to finish while I and many others would still be withering around on the ground crying like babies.


The reason you want them so young and 'pixie' like instead of muscular is simply weight. The Chinese do well because, they are like 60-70lbs while the Americans are 130 or so. Now the college level will be much heavier if they are muscular, probably 150+ or so.

Its much easier to balance, fly through the air and do other gymnastic stuff the smaller and lighter you are.


That makes sense. I would think a leaner more muscular person at the same height would be more agile and able to summon more explosive strength to do all the flipping etc.

Also, I'd just like to say that living in Iowa almost this whole summer it was ridiculous to hear about shawn johnson. She was everywhere. Did commercials. Advertised for the Iowa Games. Ridiculous.


The Chinese girls have not hit puberty yet. Hard to compare middle and junior high kids to college kids in terms of physique.


Boobs and hips.

A girl can be strong as an ox, and do all of the elements required in a given event, but she just won't look as graceful doing it if she is sporting wider hips and bigger boobs than a 15 year-old who has yet to really hit puberty.

That being said, Shawn Johnson has an ass that won't quit, IMO.


Agree; Shawn did look a little more like a 'College" Gymnast.

Anyone with any thoughts on whether the Olympics/International Competition represent two different "tracts" and how they differ, etc? (See the top of thread).



I think the different "tracts" are the same for any super elite athlete.

I hate to bring up Phelps, but I think his situation is quite similar to this. He was identified at age 11 as having talents that the other kids did not. He spent the rest of his life being a swimmer.

I think it is the same for elite gymnasts - they are discovered when they are very young, and are brought up in a much different manner than say a really good gymnast is.

Hope that makes sense.


College age is 17-22. These "little machines" are 14-17. As stated, puberty hasn't hit them fully. Muscles and bodies aren't fully mature yet. As we age, our bodies fill out.


The Olympic team is pixie-ish because that's what the judges like. If a girl gets too muscular from the thousands of hours of training, then she goes to the college ranks. That's why Shawn lost the Finals, one reason anyway. Judges don't like muscles on girls.


Gravity sucks.


Used to date a gymnast, several years ago. My understanding was you worked your way up through the levels trying to reach Elite level. If you got that high(not all do), then you worked up to international competition, and possibly the Olympics. the girls that make it that high have typically been doing gymnastics since shortly after thay could walk, and their entire life is consumed with training. My ex was 16, Level 9/10(was about to move up to Elite) when she got injured.

After surgery and rehab(had to reattach all the tendons and ligaments around her elbow), she barely got back up to 9/10 and never went higher. Before her injury, she would get up and go to train before school, then train at school during the HS gymnastics season, then go back to her private gym after school. This was 5 days a week, with another morning session on Saturday.

The 'age' thing also matters, because of the pounding these girls take. Their ankles rack up all kinds of problems due to hypermobility and overuse. If they haven't made the Olympics by 14-16, they won't. The girls you see in college gymnastics typically didn't make the Olympics, either because the timing was off(too young for one Olympiad and then too old/beat up at the next one) or because they just didn't have it. Of course they also might not have wanted to commit that much of their life to gymnstics in order to go that route(it obviously takes a ton of work). My ex's parents gave her that opportunity when she was still young enough it might have mattered. They offered to find her a coach who could take her there, but she decided she would rather enjoy her childhood.


Shawn Johnson (Silver), Nastia Liukin (Gold) and Yang Yilin (Bronze)


Thanks, Boat!

With your info I was able to do a little more research.

As you said, it REALLY is a question of having "the right stuff" (ability, Coaching, etc.), timing and a LOT of work and luck ( e.g. age, comittment, avoiding serious injury).

Here are the levels I found.

I would guess that Olympic Gymnast must be Senior Level 10 plus, with everything having fallen into place at the right time.

Junior Level

(You begin to compete at ~ Level 4-5)
Junior Level 1
Junior Level 2
Junior Level 3
Junior Level 4
Junior Level 5
Junior Level 6
Junior Level 7
Junior Level 8
Junior Level 9
Junior Level 10

Elite Level

Junior Elite
Senior Elite
Senior Level 7
Senior Level 8
Senior Level 9
Senior Level 10

Things make more sense now!




I often ponder the same thing, that wouldn't a more "defined" and muscular girl be able to perform better than someone that much lighter and perhaps less muscular?

Does the wider hips and breats appearance make that much of a difference? If it does, I don't even know what to think about the Olympics anymore. This was the first year I really cared, and maybe its the last.


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Nastia Liukin is 18. However, it is obvious when you look at her she does not have the "womanly" build. If you look at the Olympics, there are several "older" girls (and by older I mean, late teens or early 20s... although I believe there was one woman in her 30s) competing so it's not just pre-pubescents.

Besides, even at 15-16, many girls are most of the way through puberty anyway. I don't think that is necessarily the reason, although obviously it helps to be lighter and obviously a younger girl will tend to be lighter.

Here is my guess. It seems to me that an Olympic-level gymnast takes an insane amount of pounding in their career. One poster already alleged to the training schedule his girlfriend (who was not even an International-caliber gymnast) went through. Furthermore, many of these events are based on incredible reactivity and just pure stretch-reflex to spring into the air.

Anybody who has sustained a serious ankle injury knows that you can do all the rehab you want but it is never quite the same. I'd imagine that the reason you don't see so many "older" Olympic competitors is due to injury. With all of the incredibly high-force landings these girls endure, it is only a matter of time before an ankle or knee injury that is bad enough to "end" a career by not allowing you to have quite the same spring and/or balance and not let you get back to Olympic form.

I'd imagine the men are generally older because there is a much greater demand on upper body strength and that muscle is not going to come around until later. As Mufasa mentioned, the older the gymnasts get, the more muscular they tend to be simply because they have to be to make up for the increased weight they are naturally going to carry.


Shawn was asked about competing in London in 2012 (at age 20).

She essentially said she really didn't know; it would depend on if she could make and maintain the focus and commitment needed...and if she could endure the physical pounding.

Gymnastics certainly isn't a sport for the weak.



The reactivity/stretch-reflex thing was my answer. These girls aren't primarily power jumpers and so their total output vs weight is probably going to decline as they get bigger and more muscular. Moreover, with the relative limitations experienced by women in terms of upper body strength, their performance may not scale well with additional muscle mass up their either. That's my guess anyway.



Strength-to-mass ratios...balance...general physics...

NEXT TO drive and commitment, I think that these all are important in these athletes overall performance.