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Figure skating minimum age raised to 17 to protect athletes' physical, mental health

The International Skating Union voted in favor of the proposal, which increases the previous minimum age by two years.

After a Winter Olympics that shined a light on the toll that competition can take on young figure skaters, the International Skating Union (ISU) has taken action.

The organization that establishes standardized international rules and regulations for the sport voted Tuesday to change the minimum age for senior skaters from 15 to 17.

"The ISU Congress voted in favor of gradually increasing the age limit from 15 to 17 years for the sake of protecting the physical and mental health, and emotional well-being of Skaters," read a tweet from the ISU.

A follow-up tweet explained how the new age minimum will be phased in over the coming seasons: "There will be no change for the season 2022/23, an increase to 16 years for the season 2023/24 and an increase to 17 years for the season 2024/25 and subsequent seasons."

The progressive rollout means the new guidelines won’t impact 15 and 16-year-old athletes already competing, including the athlete who had the world abuzz over the question of age during the 2022 Beijing Games — Russian skater Kamila Valieva.

Kamila Valieva
Kamila Valieva competes in the women's single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on Feb. 17, 2022.Manan Vatsyayana / AFP via Getty Images

Valieva, who was 15 when she competed at the Olympics in February, failed a drug test prior to the Games, raising questions about her coaches and doctors. But a controversial decision allowed her to compete, in part because she was a minor. After she took home gold in the team figure skating event, a shocking final performance left her in tears as cameras rolled.

“There’s definitely a benefit to being a little bit older and stepping on that stage,” figure skating icon and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton told TODAY at the time. “I think you’re a more mature athlete. ... When I see something like this that happens, especially to someone so young, it just — it hurts."

After Valieva missed jumps, stumbled and fell multiple times in the women's individual free skate final, the former gold-medal favorite broke down and took fourth place.

Rafael Arutunian, who's coach to American figure skating champ Nathan Chen, brought up the issue of age in a chat with NBC Sports back in February. 

“If you are skating in an adult competition, you should be an adult,” Arutunian said.