Let's give mid-size women gymnasts a chance

At the top stratum of women's gymnastics, the most successful competitors are generally thimble-size teen-agers. The reigning world champion is 4 ft. 9 in., 86 lb. Elena Shoushounova of the Soviet Union, and when she arrived in the United States recently for a dual meet and tour, she was accompanied by a gaggle of equally tiny teammates, including 16-year-old sprite Irina Baraksanova, who is all of 4-7 and 75 pounds. The Americans who competed in the USA/USSR Gymnastics Challenge were little bigger. Sort of a reverse situation, of course, exists in basketball, with one main difference. Basketball is a team game, which means that smaller players, while fewer in number, have certain roles they can fill. A gymnast, on the other hand, performs alone, with no means of offsetting gaping size differentials during the four-event, all-around competition.

Of course, there will always be some size biasing in athletics, depending on the physical demands of any sport, as there is in men's gymnastics, too. It's this writer's opinion, however, that things have gone dangerously overboard among the women. Some means must be found to combat this situation. Two workable options come to mind. Either create weight divisions, as done in wrestling, or formulate a handicapping system based on size differences. Such a system would increase the degree of difficulty factored into the scoring for larger and sometimes more mature competitors.

Today's pint-size female gymnasts could go on doing their incredible acrobatics, but there would also be new incentives for growing young women to stay in the sport, too. The emphasis for those with bigger physiques would be to develop more grace and elegance, while still incorporating as much raw athleticism as possible.

This is a transition that Romania's Nadia Comaneci had to make to some degree between the '76 and '80 Olympics, when as a more womanly 18-year-old she finished second to the USSR's 4-7 Yelena Davydova in the all-around.

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