Figure skaters at the 2026 Olympics will be at least 17 years of age following a ruling aimed at protecting child skaters from a repeat of the controversy that engulfed Russia’s 15-year-old Kamila Valieva at the Beijing Games.
The new age limit for figure skaters at senior international events was passed on Tuesday by the International Skating Union in a 110-16 vote.
“This is a very important decision,” ISU president Jan Dijkema said.
“I would say a very historic decision.”
The limit will be phased in with 15-year-olds continuing to be allowed to compete next season, a minimum age of 16 in the 2023-24 season, rising to 17 the season after, which is the last before the next Olympics.
The ISU said the rule was “for the sake of protecting the physical and mental health, and emotional well-being of the skaters.”
Valieva was the favourite to take individual gold in Beijing after helping the Russians win the team title, before her positive doping test from December was belatedly revealed during the Olympics.
The teenager was allowed to train under intense scrutiny as a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing was prepared that allowed her to compete pending the full investigation in Russia. That is still ongoing.
However, her main routine was filled with errors and she dropped to fourth place. She was then criticised rink-side by her coach, Eteri Tutberidze.
The ISU drafted an age-limit proposal saying “burnout, disordered eating, and long-term consequences of injury” were a risk to young teenage skaters who are pushed to perform more quadruple jumps.
The decision was criticised in Russia, where skaters are banned by the ISU from international competitions because of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.
“I think it was done to more or less even out the competition, so that our Russian female skaters couldn’t have the opportunity to win world championship, European, Olympic medals,” Dmitri Soloviev, a team event gold medallist for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, told broadcaster Match TV.
“But in my opinion Eteri Tutberidze will find a way to get our athletes into ideal condition at the age of 17 or 18,” Soloviev said, “so that they can show their best results at international competitions at that age in particular.”