Monika Thiele, a sports scientist based in Bremen, says intense training of children in sports schools can result in terrible health problems, particularly for girls in gymnastic disciplines, where extreme stretching is called for.
“There a body is simply pulled apart,” Thiele said. She said this was not just happening in Russia and China, where children are taken from their families for intense training in special schools.
A diluted form is already taking place in Germany, said Thiele, who has been researching rhythmic sports gymnastics for six years.
Even in Germany the gymnasts train for six hours a day, six days a week, on top of schooling time. “The working day of an adult is not this long,” she said.
The entrance age for such sports in Germany is just six, she said, although this is better than in China where three-year-olds are put into training.
Thiele warned against more aggressive training practices being adopted in Germany, pointing to a concept developed by the German Olympic Sport Association in 2000 which she said moved in that direction.
“This could really take off after China,” she suggested.