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A sports reporter investigates the training of girls as professional gymnasts and figure skaters, arguing that the pressure to succeed and to look beautiful results in mental and physical harm, from eating disorders to psychological trauma.
``The female gymnast's career is a race against time and nature,'' writes San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ryan, and the same appears to be true of world-class female figure skaters. In both sports, the contemporary ideal is a girl with a boy's body: sans breasts and hips. To achieve this ``ideal,'' the athletes overtrain at a time when their skeletal development is supposed to be the greatest, suffering injuries to vertebrae, arms and legs at the same time that they are constantly being ordered to lose weight. The result: anorexia and bulimia. This expose, which absolves the exploited trainees of most blame--though some are apparently monomaniacal about becoming Mary Lou Rettons or Dorothy Hamills--is scathing on the subjects of parents, coaches, judges, the U.S. Gymnastic Federation and the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Ryan concludes that females aged 13 to 18 are not only exploited but abused. Such a powerful plea for reform may have some results.