Objectives: Three questions were addressed: (1) Do female gymnasts have adolescent growth spurts in height, sitting height, and leg length? (2) Are the sequence and magnitude of spurts comparable with female adolescent non-athletes? (3) How do the data compare with other female gymnasts and with short girls?
Study design: Height and sitting height were measured annually on 15 Belgian gymnasts from 8.7 +/- 1.5 to 15.5 +/- 1.5 years. The gymnasts trained, on average, approximately 15 h/wk. Leg length was estimated as height minus sitting height. The Preece-Baines Model I was fitted to individual growth records to estimate ages at peak velocity and peak velocities for the three dimensions. Age at menarche and skeletal age were also assessed.
Results: Gymnasts have clearly defined adolescent spurts in height, estimated leg length, and sitting height that occur approximately 1 year later and are slightly less intense than in nonathletic adolescent girls. Age at menarche and skeletal age are consistent with later somatic maturation. The pattern of adolescent growth and maturation is similar to that of other gymnasts, short normal late-maturing girls, and late-maturing girls with short parents.
Conclusions: The results emphasize a primary role for constitutional factors in the selection process of female gymnasts at relatively young ages.